Out of Control Policy Blog

Five No-Brainer Cost Saving Ideas for Government

Over at Governing, Harvard Kennedy School research fellow, Better, Faster, Cheaper blog editor, and former Reasoner John O'Leary highlights five well-established cost saving ideas deserving widespread adoption in government, including asset divestiture and competitive contracting. Here's a summary (with excerpts, emphasis mine):

  • 311 call systems: "Think New York City, Chicago, Baltimore and Houston. The art and practice of installing a centralized 311 call number to track requests for public services is well established. This not only boosts service quality, it also provides important data for public managers, helping them learn where they need to improve."
  • Plastic cards for benefit delivery: "When it comes to benefits, plastic beats paper hands down. Roughly 30 states now use plastic benefit cards to disburse unemployment insurance payments, saving on check printing, postage and staff costs. The Kansas Department of Labor, for example, estimates that it will save $300,000 annually in paper and postage costs for a system they say will be "faster, more secure and efficient." The Texas Workforce Commission estimates it saves $1.4 million a year by using electronic cards rather than paper checks for unemployment benefits."
  • Economic development clawbacks: "The idea of using tax abatements is questionable to begin with, since other taxpayers will have to pick up the slack. But here's a no brainer: If you offer a company a tax break, they ought to keep their end of the bargain. A 'clawback' provision or other guarantee that the promised jobs will actually appear should be standard practice."
  • Embracing competitive service delivery: "Contracting out won't always be the right answer, but it should be a tool in every public official's toolbox. If there has ever been a time when government cannot afford to ignore competition as a spur to productivity, this is it."
  • Shedding non-essential assets: "California, the state with a $20 billion budget deficit, owns a lot of stuff, including golf courses, the Los Angeles Coliseum and an $11-million Malibu beach house once used to film an MTV series. It's time for the Golden State to join the real world. Every state and municipality that owns a golf course, museum or abandoned property should consider these spaces an excellent site for a "for sale" sign."

O'Leary concludes, "It's time to redefine low-hanging fruit and take advantage of these proven cost-trimming approaches." I couldn't agree more.

See O'Leary's recent Reason.org article (co-authored with William Eggers), "Five Reasons Why Libertarians Shouldn't Hate Government," as well as our recent Reason.tv interview with the two authors on their new book, If We Can Put a Man on The Moon....

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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