Category Archives: Overview/General

The Untapped Wealth of American Cities

Source: Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak, CityLab, August 6, 2017
 
Americans who travel abroad sometimes wonder why many of our airports are lacking in comparison to the best international airports. Or they want to know why other nations seem to do a better job with public transportation and the management of other public assets, from ports to parks. The answers we are tempted to give are that we do not invest as heavily in public infrastructure as many other nations and that a market-oriented American ethos with an entrepreneurial culture prefers private solutions (cars versus trains) to public ones. … But there’s another answer: Compared to many other nations, in the United States government has more direct control of public assets such as airports, convention centers, and transport, water and sewer systems (just to name a few). And the government does not, for the most part, manage them well, failing to leverage the market potential and value of the assets they own. Far from being broke, many cities and counties have enormous untapped wealth, which could be used to finance not only infrastructure but investments in children and other critical needs. …

There is a better way, teased out in detail and with great authority in The Public Wealth of Cities, a new book co-authored by Dag Detter and Stefan Folster, two Swedish experts in public finance. The pair have studied public asset management and are promoting a third alternative to political management or full privatization—public ownership that relies on professional, private-sector management.… The authors’ core argument is a disruptive idea in public policy that links management systems, public asset value, intelligent financing, and the proper role of politicians in a democracy. …

Privatization Is Changing America’s Relationship With Its Physical Stuff

Source: Brian Alexander, The Atlantic, July 12, 2017
 
… As vague as Trump’s pronouncements have been on the matter, it is clear that the general thrust behind the promised building-and-repair push involves using federal dollars as up-front investment to entice private enterprises to provide most of the financing. While Democrats announced their opposition, the general idea of increased privatization of infrastructure has had a bipartisan cast. President Obama supported a plan to create an “infrastructure bank” that would help finance so-called public-private partnerships (known, for their alliteration, as P3s), but that idea fizzled under the glare of Republican opposition. He also floated the idea of selling off the Tennessee Valley Authority. …

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Selling Back To The Public What It Already Owned: ‘Public-Private Partnership’ Shark Bait
Source: Mercedes Schneider, Huffington Post, June 12, 2017
 
Today, I read two articles centered on this idea, both of which concerned Vice President Mike Pence – and one that concerned Pence’s role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  One article also included a sprinkling of US secretary of [privatized] education, Betsy DeVos.  A major goal of corporate education reform is to deliver public education to private entities (corporations, or even nonprofits, but don’t think that an entity termed “nonprofit” cannot be a handsome money dispenser for those running the nonprofit and doling out contracts). However, the extreme-right-Republican aim does not end with public education but with delivering the operation of the entire American infrastructure to private entities.  In the end, what this entails is having private corporations front money to state and local governments in order to lease back to the public what the public already owns.

How President Trump Might Carry The Torch Of Privatization
Source: Here & Now, WBUR, May 8, 2017

… Now President Trump is poised to continue privatization and private contracting in all kinds of industries, from education to incarceration. Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson looks at the history and politics of privatization with Donald Cohen and Shahrzad Habibi of the group In The Public Interest. …

Continue reading

Lawmakers Aim to Restrict Use of Lowest-Price Contracts

Source: Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, July 10, 2017
 
A contractors group has welcomed a bipartisan House bill placed in the hopper last month aimed at curbing agency use of lowest price technically acceptable contracts.  The Promoting Value Based Procurement Act (H.R. 3019), introduced by Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Don Beyer, D-Va., would amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation to require civilian agencies to align themselves with the Defense Department and stiffen their rationales for resorting to lowest price technically acceptable contracts, which have grown in use in recent years but are controversial. …

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The Challenge of Applying the LPTA Process to the Procurement of Complex Services

Source: TASC, Inc., 2012

From the press release:
Increased reliance by government customers on the Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) acquisition strategy poses unnecessary risks such as budget overruns, delivery delays and, in the worst cases, mission failure. According to a new report by TASC, Inc., the LPTA process can be appropriate for commoditized services with clearly defined requirements, but not for complex services that support sophisticated, high-risk missions. In cases where the government does elect to use the LPTA process, it should rigorously define and evaluate technical acceptability and past performance to avoid compromising the performance of the program or system and, ultimately, the success of the mission….

…The TASC report makes the case that using the LPTA approach in the acquisition of complex mission services can compromise mission success and increase total program costs over time when factoring in rework and related costs. To achieve the best value, TASC recommends that solicitations for complex services adopt a classic best-value, cost-technical tradeoff approach that considers innovation, scheduling rigor and program cost containment. When the government does use the LPTA process, technical and past performance requirements should be defined precisely. In addition, applying detailed technical criteria using scenario-based evaluations, high standards of past performance and price-realism analyses are essential to mitigate the risk of unsuccessful performance on a given contract solicited on an LPTA basis. The TASC report offers examples of solicitations that utilize these recommendations….

Modeling Fiscal Stress and Contracting Out in Local Government: The Influence of Time, Financial Condition, and the Great Recession

Source: Antonio M. López-Hernández, José L. Zafra-Gómez, Ana M. Plata-Díaz, Emilio J. de la Higuera-Molina, The American Review of Public Administration, April 19, 2017 (Subscription Required)

Abstract: Various studies have analyzed the relationship between fiscal stress and contracting out, but have failed to achieve conclusive results. In this article, we take a broad view of fiscal stress, addressed in terms of financial condition and studied over a lengthy period (2000-2010). The relationship between fiscal stress and contracting out is studied using a dynamic model, based on survival analysis, a methodology that enables us to take into account the effect of time on this relationship. As this study period includes the years of the Great Recession (2008-2010), we also highlight the impact of this event on the fiscal stress–contracting out relation. The results obtained suggest that taking into account the passage of time and conducting a long-term assessment of financial condition enable a more precise understanding of this relation. We also find that the Great Recession reduced the probability of local governments’ contracting out public services.

3/2 Rebecca Kolins Givan: Labor Organizing After Privatization (Podcast)

Source: Majority Report, March 2, 2017

Rebecca Kolins Givan, an Associate Professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University, explains the thinking behind the push for privatization. Privatizing profit and socializing risk. Finance and making money off of public health services. The Post Office and rural mail delivery. How workers can organize in the face of cost cutting and privatization and the possibility for organizing in spite of the assault on the public sector and the distinct types of union organizing.

The Perils of Privatization (Podcast)

Source: Building Local Power, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, January 12, 2017

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews David Morris, a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the director of the Public Good initiative. The two discuss the climate surrounding privatization in our economy and how the incoming Trump administration will bolster these efforts nationwide. Morris delves deep into the history of public infrastructure including explanations of how our language around the subject has changed over the years, privatization in other countries, and hope for the future.

[Ed. Note: A full transcript of the audio is also available from the source.]

Bring it on home: How CUPE campaigns are keeping services public

Source: Canadian Union of Public Employees, November 21, 2016

Throughout BC, CUPE members have been key players in the effort to keep services public or bring them back in-house. Our members have led effective campaigns to ensure that residents are getting cost-effective, transparent and reliable services. This compilation of stories, first published in CUPE BC’s Public Employee magazine, highlights some recent contracting-in success stories.

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What Happens When Privatization Doesn’t Work Out
Source: Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene, October 2016

Privatization is one of the hottest topics in state and local government. Google the word and you come up with around 12 million entries. But for all the articles and academic reports on the best approaches to outsourcing government services, there’s also a surprising amount of activity around insourcing. These days, roughly the same percentage of services that are newly being contracted out are being brought back into the government fold, according to Mildred Warner, a professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University. Her examination of data accumulated by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) for the period from 2007 to 2012 showed that new outsourcing accounted for 11.1 percent of all services and new insourcing accounted for 10.4 percent of all services. … According to Warner’s analysis of ICMA data, the two main reasons governments reverse their privatized services are inferior service quality and a lack of anticipated cost savings. Additionally, improvements in the capacity of local governments to work with greater efficiency can make them the more appealing alternative. …

Back in House: Why Local Governments are bringing services home
Source: Keith Reynolds, Gaëtan Royer and Charley Beresford, Centre for Civic Governance, 2016

Summary:

Back In House: Why Local Governments Are Bringing Services Home, a new report from the Columbia Institute, is about the emerging trend of remunicipalization. Services that were once outsourced are finding their way back home. Most often, they are coming home because in-house services cost less. The bottom-line premise of cost savings through outsourcing is not proving to be as advertised. Other reasons for insourcing include better quality control, flexibility, efficiency in operations, problems with contractors, increased staff capacity, better staff morale, and better support for vulnerable citizens. When services are brought back in house, local governments re-establish community control of public service delivery. The report examines the Canadian environment for local governments, shares 15 Canadian case studies about returning services, follows-up and reports back on two earlier studies promoting contracted out services, provides a scan of international findings, and shares some best practices and governance checkpoints for bringing services back in house. Many of the local governments examined employ CUPE members. As part of our ongoing work to promote the value of publicly-delivered services, CUPE helped fund the production of the Columbia Institute report Back in House

Read full report.

Only a cash-strapped public sector still finds ‘smart’ technology sexy

Source: Evgeny Mozorov, The Guardian, September 10, 2016

The irony must be lost on Silicon Valley: Uber, a company run by an unabashed admirer of libertarian novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, is increasingly touted as the saviour of American public transport systems, establishing partnerships with many municipalities to offer a parallel, privately run alternative. The likes of Mark Zuckerberg already rule the media. Now they want to censor the past Marina Hyde Read more Some local governments already offer impressive discounts to their citizens who use Uber; why, after all, spend all this taxpayer money on infrastructure upgrades if one can simply hand it over to Silicon Valley firms? Others consider outsourcing particular functions – like the transportation of the disabled mandated by law – with Uber being the most obvious candidate to benefit. … It all began with an explosion of “smart” programs – with “smart” nothing but a euphemism for “privatised”. From smart cities to smart elderly care, the promise has been to retrofit crumbling public infrastructure with the shiny and privately operated gadgetry that can get the job done on the cheap. … This entanglement between Silicon Valley and the public sector explains why tech executives prefer Democrats to Republicans. Having realised that there’s a lot of money to be made, technology firms have no desire to shrink the public sector: why deprive themselves of lucrative government contracts? A bloated government, which turns the administration of its programmes over to the private sector, would do just fine. The blame, of course, does not reside solely with Silicon Valley. The public sector itself can no longer think outside the neoliberal toolkit of corporations, markets and networks. But it also cannot and would not abandon itself. So it simply recruits the private sector to run its affairs. For governments, such deals promise speed and savings. For Silicon Valley, they promise guaranteed revenue – as well as guaranteed access to customers’ data, which, in the long run, might be more important than the revenue. …

A Sunday visit to a privately-operated American immigration detention center

Source: Monica Campbell, PRI, October 3, 2016

The center is one of 637 facilities in the United States holding, detaining or processing immigrants. In fiscal year 2015, 325,209 people were processed through these facilities — mostly to be deported, but also because they were released on bond or because they were found to have a lawful right to stay in the country. Most of the facilities are operated by private contractors, including Corrections Corporation of America, which runs Eloy. Most people are inside for minor, non-violent crimes. The people gathered in the van this morning have plenty in common. They share Mexican heritage, have lived in the US for years and do manual work, like cleaning houses and pools, fixing cars or taking care of the elderly. They are all off to visit a relative — a son, father, husband or wife — detained at Eloy. They are mixed-status families split by detention, with deportation a real possibility. … According to ICE data obtained and analyzed by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, about 7,000 people were detained at Eloy in fiscal year 2015. The facility holds about 1,500 people — men and women — in minimum and medium security conditions. It has remained close to full since 2010, according to ICE. Families, like those I met, must set aside most of the day for visiting their relatives. The process involves moving through a series of waiting rooms over several hours until a family’s turn comes up. You’re also stripped of all belongings before you are allowed your one-hour visit in a room filled with tables and vending machines. … According to the Migration Policy Institute, about 5.1 million children in the US live with an undocumented immigrant parent. That means, as is the case for German, they live with the possibility that their parents will be detained or deported. But, during the family’s visit, there was no talk about that. Rather, they discussed football practice and how homework was going. Normal family life. …

When Public Schools Go Private

Source: Rachel Cohen, The American Prospect, September 28, 2016

The Census Bureau released new data earlier this month that showed the median household income in 2015 was $56,500, up 5.2 percent over 2014. This marked the largest single-year increase since at least 1967, the federal agency reported. Moreover, this income growth was concentrated among the poor and the middle class, and 2.7 million fewer Americans were living in poverty in 2015 than a year prior. … With that in mind, a new report released today by In the Public Interest, a research and policy organization, makes the case that the increased privatization of public goods and services over the last few decades has contributed to, and exacerbated, the stark inequalities we see today. The report sifts through various sectors that have grown increasingly privatized—from foster care and transportation, to public schools and prisons—outlining commonalities between them, and recommending ways to undo some of the harms of private contracting. … The heated debate over whether charters are “public” or “private” tends to grow quite muddied, particularly as most charter schools are structured as nonprofits. Charter supporters point out that these schools are open to all students, funded by taxpayers, and free to attend—ergo, public. Critics say that charters are happy to take advantage of public laws and benefits when it suits them, and claim private status otherwise. The dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Jim Ryan, remarked in an interview earlier this month that he “scratches his head” when he hears that charter schools are efforts to privatize public education, and that “it’s hard to see how [such claims] have a lot of merit.” … Lastly, In The Public Interest’s new report also discusses the ways in which charter schools accelerate the racial and economic segregation of public schooling—something they say is common for sectors that grow increasingly privatized. They cite research from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA showing that charter schools are more racially isolated than neighborhood public schools in almost every state and large metropolitan area in the country. Rapid charter growth, coupled with increased segregation, In The Public Interest says, helps to destabilize school finances, resulting in fewer resources, particularly for students of color, disabled students, and poor students. …