Privatization Teamwork Can Make It Work

Posted: April 01, 1988

Privatization - the use of private and nonprofit organizations for the delivery of public services - can be an effective tool for public administrators if, like any tool, it is used properly. The report issued by President Reagan's Commission on Privatization does a disservice to the concept and undermines public management at all levels of government.

The commission's report suggests wholesale changes in the delivery of governmental services. Among its recommendations, it calls for the elimination of the postal service's monopoly, the use of vouchers in education and housing and the selling off of assets. Anyone who has ever studied public administration knows that these are age-old ideas that do not represent any new or imaginative approaches to the delivery of public services.

More importantly, such an extreme position diminishes the credibility of the commission's work and the value of privatization.

In Camden County, we have taken a more reasonable approach to privatization, one that examines the nature of services and more closely targets the use of private and nonprofit organizations.

For example, Camden County has effectivly used the services of a private, nonprofit human service planning agency, the Community Planning and Advocacy Council, in funding and planning the county's human services. Through this partnership, the county makes use of the unique blend of community sensitivity and comprehensive planning offered by the agency.

In the area of resource recovery, Camden County is teaming up with a private sector company to construct and operate a state-of-the-art facility. Again, in this targeted area, the county is tapping the expertise of a firm with a record of success.

In recycling, the county has built a national reputation through the use of a public-private partnership to operate a recycling center.

Finally, the proposed board of managers' plan for the Lakeland facility will use the expertise of private-nonprofit, health-care providers in the governance of our health care facility.

All of these examples prove that selective use of private organizations can assist government in doing its job at a high level of quality and at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.

The concept of privatization can be explained in two words: provide and produce. The government provides services that society deems necessary when private enterprise cannot meet those service needs. The critical point to understand is that providing a service does not require the government to produce the service, hence the concept of privatization.

In published statements, David. F. Linowes, chairman of the Commission on Privatization, said that government does not lend itself to managing high technology and, furthermore, that governmental entities have injected themselves well beyond the realm of government. We believe Linowes is wrong on both counts.

First, government does manage high technology. The issue is, what can be done to provide government with the ability to sustain, and, indeed, increase its ability to manage new technology. To this extent, federal and state officials would better serve local governments by funding and supporting incentive programs that encourage creativity and innovation.

Second, governmental entities carry out the legislative mandates that are a result of social needs. Government is not the problem. Our energy should be focused on improving the quality of public management and providing an appropriate level of government services through a balanced public-private delivery system.

In Camden County, we believe that the use of private concerns to assist in the delivery of public services is a fundamental principle of public administration, one that should be used selectively. Furthermore, we feel it is appropriate that federal and state governments recognize that they can best

serve the taxpayers by encouraging reasonable and appropriate applications of privatization, not to suggest wholesale or sweeping changes.

Local governments can be used as incubators for pilot programs that encourage creative thinking and new approaches for public service.

As Camden County has proven, when used properly privatization can work.

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