Another View: Outsourcing public services may deliver steep bill to taxpayers

Donald Cohen
Donald Cohen

Accountability for taxpayer dollars is an unassailable goal. Unfortunately, The Sacramento Bee is supporting outsourcing of public services and opposing common-sense bills that will protect taxpayers and improve public services (“Bills that should never become law”; Editorials, Sept. 17).

In the Public Interest, a comprehensive policy center on responsible contracting, has cataloged hundreds of cases of well-intended outsourcing efforts that delivered unexpected bills and unintended service reductions to taxpayers.

Our studies show privatization delivers the best value for taxpayers in cases where clear management standards, fair contracting practices and transparency requirements are written into the law. One such effort to protect taxpayer dollars by implementing gold-standard contracting requirements is Senate Bill 682, a bill Gov. Jerry Brown should sign.

SB 682 would bring California’s trial courts under the same essential contracting standards that apply to the executive branch and local government agencies. These standards protect taxpayers from hidden costs and reductions in service quality and hold public-sector managers accountable for conducting competitive bidding.

There is no policy reason for courts to be exempt from oversight in contracting. To the contrary, the central role of our justice system in public safety and in family and business matters makes it all the more important to keep these services accessible by safeguarding taxpayer resources.

In the Public Interest has seen an increasing number of public agencies undertaking the challenging task of rebuilding public services damaged by privatizing after contractors failed to save money or meet service expectations, a trend known as “insourcing.” Common-sense standards like those in SB 682 smartly require that analysis of the costs of contracting be done up front, rather than after taxpayers have already paid a steep bill.

At its worst, a blind push toward privatization has public agencies driving a race-to-the bottom that should concern taxpayers, who ultimately bear the brunt of poor service quality and low wages.

Common-sense standards like those in SB 682 ensure the public interest is paramount when services are contracted out.

Donald Cohen is executive director of In the Public Interest, a comprehensive research and policy center on privatization and responsible contracting.