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Article Summary

Moulder, Evelina. 1994. "Privatization: involving citizens and local government employees." Baseline Data Report 26 (1): 1-7.

This article summarizes the results of a survey conducted by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) in 1992 on local area alternative service delivery. The survey was mailed nationwide to chief administrative officers in all cities with populations of 10,000 or more, and to counties with populations of 25,000 or more.1

According to the results of this survey, whether or not local governments do actually privatize, 69.5% have gone so far as to conduct a feasibility study on the subject. Privatization usually occurs because a local government or its citizens believe services can be provided more efficienty and at a lower cost when contracted out. Also, many localities are privatizing in response to an increase in population size (with the exception of jurisdictions that have a population of 1,000,000 or greater). This study showed that privatization efforts were initiated more often from within the government sector (90.3% of the time) as opposed to by the citizens.

Manager and department heads are most often involved in evaluating the feasibility of private service delivery, followed, in descending order, by elected officials, assistant mangers, and finally, line employees.

Moulder suggests that involving line employees in the feasibility study from the beginning would be beneficial to the process. Line employees have critical insight into the methods of service delivery and they would feel respected as participants. For employees, it would also be an opportunity to voice concerns and might serve as an exercise for them to explore how they can improve efficiency and operations in general. It has been shown that larger jurisdictions are more likely to involve line employees in the feasibility study, as are areas on the Pacific coast and in the Mountain division. Other outside groups, such as citizen advisory committees, were also reported by localities to be involved in the feasibility study process.

Obstacles to implementation of private service delivery can come from employees and consumers (citizens). Of the respondents to the survey that reported obstacles to privatization, 31% identified citizens as the source of opposition. Even though service evaluation can serve to bolster citizen confidence and is important to efficiency, only 47% of the jurisdictions reported the use of systematic evaluation of service delivery.

Fifty four percent of the opposition to privatization experienced was reported as coming from line employees. Of those jurisdictions that do privatize and experience opposition from line employees, less than half had involved line employees in the feasibility study. Even fewer allowed public employees to compete for the contracted service, or made an effort to develop programs to mitigate effects on public employees displaced by privatization. Larger jurisdictions with a population of 100,000 or greater did show more of a tendency to allow public sector employees to compete for providing services.

Privatization of public service delivery impacts both public sector employees and consumers. Both groups should be an integral part of the decisionmaking process over changes, such as privatization, that effect the quality of life in their community.

1. One thousand five hundred and four responses were received, accounting for an overall response rate of 31%.