Revisionist History in Florida Privatization

A few things popped out to me in this Tallahassee Democrat editorial on the Florida Department of Corrections’ recent decision to end a large food services contract. The Democrat seizes the occasion to try and take a belated swipe at former Gov. Jeb Bush’s privatization agenda, but it had to twist some history to do so:

As we’ve said numerous times in the past, privatizing some government services makes good sense ââ?¬â?? but only after careful review, budget crunching and assessment of potential consequences. But if the people elected to watch the public purse already know the answers to all the questions, or think they do, why bother? Here are just a few reasons why: People First! and Convergys; MyFloridaMarketPlace; Aspire. They’re among the privatization debacles responsible for a 2006 law ââ?¬â?? passed after lawmakers developed some spine in Mr. Bush’s last full year in office ââ?¬â?? that created a special efficiency council and requires state agencies to develop a “business case” before outsourcing major projects. Imagine that. Now add Aramark to the list of outsourcing failures ââ?¬â?? another expensive lesson for taxpayers at the hands of elected officials who conveniently forgot that citizens are the real special interest they’re supposed to represent. “Ready, fire, aim,” an accurate description of the Bush privatization strategy, should forever stand as an example of government not for the people, but the private profit makers.

The Democrat paints a misleading picture. When creating the Council on Efficient Government in 2006, the Florida legislature was merely codifying something into statute that Gov. Bush had created two years earlier by executive order, the Center for Efficient Government. My former colleague Jack Furney wrote about this in this 2006 op-ed (btw, he was the Center’s former Chief of Policy and Budget, so he should know):

Recently some of Florida’s many outsourcing successes have been overshadowed by the high-powered media spotlight on the few projects that experienced difficulties. After learning from those mistakes, today Florida is doing a better job. Rather than abandoning the goal of a “smaller, more efficient government,” Gov. Bush took measures to make Florida’s competition efforts better, and well, more efficient. He issued an executive order in March 2004 that created the “Center for Efficient Government” to “promote fair and transparent best business practices in government in order to foster accountability, competition, efficiency and innovation in the way state agencies deliver services to Florida’s citizens.” Bush has since issued a subsequent executive order to assist agencies in the development of a reemployment and retraining assistance plan for employees not retained by the agency or employed by the contractor. Recently these concepts were codified into law securing Bush’s legacy and impact for future administrations. The new law establishes a standardized method for procuring and managing contracts that will result in more accountability, visibility and competition. Doing so has increased the public’s confidence and has mitigated perceptions of impropriety. Injecting competition allows the state to realize the best value and wisely spend taxpayer dollars. There’s no doubt, government contracts are big business opportunities for the private sector. The bottom line is that government is capitalizing on these opportunities by providing the taxpayer with the best bang for the buck. By implementing properly managed competition initiatives, Florida has benefited in terms of dollars saved, efficiencies gained and improvement of services to citizens. Even with some mixed results, the state has saved more than half a billion dollars while reducing more than 6,500 positions, not to mention the $20 billion in tax avoidance. The savings generated from Florida’s competition initiatives have enabled tax dollars to be redirected into mission-critical, core citizen services that help families, children, the environment and the elderly.

The fact that Gov. Bush himself was the genesis of the Council on Efficient Government stands in direct contrast to the Democrat‘s assertion that it was created in reaction to and as a check on his privatization initiatives. The Democrat may never want to let a good deed go unpunished as far as Gov. Bush’s privatization initiatives are concerned, but it seems to me they should instead be applauding him for setting up the Council in the first place as a way to improve state contracting for the decades to come and deliver the best value for Florida taxpayers. For more recent news on the Council on Efficent Government, see this recent blog post, or see the detailed overview of Florida contracting in the “State and Local Update Section” of Reason’s Annual Privatization Report 2008. Reason’s Annual Privatization Report 2008 Reason’s Privatization and Government Reform Research and Commentary