If the Government Competes Against the Private Sector, Everybody Wins

Source: Eric Schnurer, The Atlantic, March 11, 2015

When civil servants are pitted against businesses, they actually secure most of the contracts put out for bid. … Chicago is not alone in pursuing managed competition. It is ubiquitous in the United Kingdom, which has had at least 3,500 such competitions. In this country, cities including Phoenix, Charlotte, Indianapolis and Philadelphia have pursued managed competition as a strategy for cutting cost and improving service. ….

…Construction workers repairing sidewalks were working the standard eight-hour shifts, five days per week. Pouring a load of cement, though, takes about five hours to complete, meaning they could only pour one load per day, or five per week. If the city went to a 10-hour, four-days-per-week schedule, however, as the unions suggested, the crews could pour two loads per day, eight per week—a 60 percent increase in productivity at no additional cost and with savings on fuel and equipment rental. … The Phoenix trash-hauling operations have become legendary as the fountainhead of managed competition…. In 1992, Goldsmith targeted roughly 80 city services for privatization. Again, as public employees began to realize that their futures lay in competing, they began to win more and more of the contracts. Indianapolis’ fleet services department got so good at what it did, in fact, that it started expanding its “business” to service other quasi-governmental entities….

…..It may surprise some people to know that, in most instances where such “managed competition” has been tried, the in-house government workers have almost always beaten out the private sector. …In sum, there’s no good reason why the private sector shouldn’t be allowed to compete to provide many, if not most, government services—but there’s no good reason why government shouldn’t, and can’t successfully, compete back….