MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

July 28, 2013

Openness lost in privatization

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— A push toward the privatization of state services is spawning criticism from those who see the trend as the decline of government transparency and accountability.

Proponents of privatization say it promotes “effective and efficient” delivery of those services. A task force created by Gov. Mary Fallin identified 14 specific areas for possible privatization and listed others where opportunities exist.

“Opportunities clearly exist to use privatization as an alternate delivery system for state services,” members of Fallin’s Bold Ideas task force stated among their recommendations. “Privatization is an opportunity not only to benchmark the cost of state services, but to establish performance outcomes as the basis of payment.”

Critics of the trend say outsourcing government services contributes to taxpayers having very little say about how tax dollars are spent. Privatization can exclude taxpayers from participating in the decision-making process and allow corporate interests to avoid the scrutiny to which public bodies are exposed.  

Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, a resource center on privatization, recently “launched a pro-active program to expose the privatization of public services and infrastructure as an assault on American democracy.” The program’s centerpiece is an agenda that advocates safeguards for “transparency, accountability and responsible contracting” policies.

Part of the agenda proposed by the resource center includes measures that would require all companies paid with tax revenue to open their books and meetings to the public. The organization also promotes requirements that companies contracting with local and state governments be required to pay living wages with reasonable benefits.

Alex Weintz, Fallin’s communications director, said the trend toward privatization may not be as rampant as some believe. When services are privatized, Weintz said, it is done in an effort to provide those services “more effectively and efficiently.”

“Government has a role and so does privatization, but we are not out to privatize everything,” Weintz said while discussing the governor’s task force to study the Grand River Dam Authority and the possibility of privatizing at least parts of that state agency. “There are pros and cons to privatization, but there are benefits in privatizing some services that can be provided more effectively and efficiently.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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To read more about the privatization of public services, go to: www.inthepublicinterest.org.