Monday, June 20, 2011

A Shout Out to Frederick County, MD

Google Analytics indicates the good folk of Frederick County, Maryland have been doing due diligence before moving from a traditional service approach to the once-favored "Public Private Partnership" or "Three Pee UhOh". Since our new cities north of Atlanta seem to be the breeding ground for Three Pee UhOh, perhaps the experiences of these communities can provide some guidance.

In no particular order...

Be wary of studies. The outcome of any study is based on assumptions. Whoever controls the assumptions controls the results and recommendations.

Be wary of consultants. Consultants are a bit like picking a doctor. If you talk to a surgeon, your ailment will most likely be treated by surgery. A homeopath? Not so much. If you hire a consultant with a track record of advising wholesale outsourcing of services, well, don't be too surprised when he recommends you do the same. And you should be no less surprised to find out he just happens to know of a company that can get the job done.

Be careful what you ask for.  If the motivation is to free the county from a Wisconsin-like death grip of public worker unions, then perhaps wholesale outsourcing is required to break free. Be sure the contract is no greater than a term in office or you will simply trade one demon for another. Plan a clear path to the optimal solution arrived at by some of our communities.

If the change is the result of a political shift from democrats, generally beholding to unions, towards republicans, generally beholding to business, be very wary. You are probably just trading one form of political corruption for another.

Wholesale outsourcing is dubious at best. The financial arguments are simple enough: like Walmart, these mega-corps allegedly enjoy economies of scale. Perhaps they do. But one thing is certain, when you pay the contract, you are paying their profits, their executive bonuses, and funding their re-investment in their business. Little of this money will stay in Frederick County.

When you outsource services you outsource quality. More importantly you outsource accountability and transparency. What is now subject to open records requests will magically become "the proprietary business information of a private corporation".

Full frontal Three Pee UhOh has lost its luster. Before rampant city formation had run its course north of Atlanta, at least one of the new cities rejected full outsourcing from the very beginning. The others have or are in the process of moving towards in-house management with multiple contracts for various work. This is being done not only to ensure the best service levels, but to save money. Ironically it is saving money that is offered as the primary reason to outsource but it simply has not withstood the onslaught of reality.

We in The Other Dunwoody hope this helps.