Over at Governing, Harvard research fellow and former Reasoner John O’Leary takes a tongue-in-cheek look at a few privatization stories—including the privatization of Kansas City’s animal shelter, the U.S. Senate’s restaurants and Muammar Gaddafi’s camel breeding operations—but makes a serious conclusion (emphasis mine):
Privatization won’t always work. But when public-sector agencies are broken and stuck in a cycle of ineffectiveness, bringing in new management is a strategy that should be considered. Privatizing the dog pound, the Senate’s soup kitchen and Libya’s camel-breeding farms may sound humorous, but they represent real management headaches for public managers. They also were over-consuming taxpayer dollars.
Dysfunctional agencies don’t work well for anyone and can be notoriously resistant to change. Sometimes a new operator is just the thing to breathe new life into a moribund operation. Just ask Fluffy.
Or, just ask the board of education in Los Angeles, which last August voted to privatize the operation of 200 chronically underperforming schools (and 50 new schools).
These weren’t ideological decisions—these were pragmatic enterprise management decisions intended to produce better outcomes. The sooner that politicians drop the antiquated notion that privatization is an ideological tool to fear—and embrace it as proven management tool to drive better, faster and cheaper public service delivery—the better.