When the Government Shops Smart, the Taxpayers Benefit

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I hope you are having a great holidays as I am. I drove by my local mall today, and thought “I am soooo done with shopping for a while.” I glanced over at my wife, and she had a look of longing. I hate to shop, she loves it. Pretty typical.

I found myself thinking that I wish government agencies were more like my wife and less like me. This holiday season has brought a flood of stories across my desk that show how fundamental and far reaching are the benefits when government agencies embrace competition and do a little shopping for services.


In our nation’s capital, the Office of Management and Budget broke with tradition and decided to see if private printers could beat the Government Printing Office’s deal for printing the 2004 federal budget. The result — the GPO cut its price 23 percent ($108,370) and kept the work. That is $100k a year that GPO could have saved us any time they chose, but they never chose to do so until their customer decided to shop. (read about it at https://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/1202/122702b1.htm)

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a study showed that the city garage cost $87.20 to change the oil and lube city vehicles, while private dealerships charge the city only $36.54 for the same service. City workers argue they should try to improve their operations before the work is sent to Jiffy Lube. But they were not saying that before their customer went shopping. (read about it at https://www.krqe.com/Global/story.asp?s=%20%201048658)

Back in Washington, D.C., the Forest Service announced plans to compare the work currently done by thousands of its workers to bids by the private sector. The National Federation of Federal Employees Forest Service Council objects, saying “We will lose out. It will not be a real valid comparison. . . . We have no opportunity to [show we can] do better. So, if you have an inefficient organization, which I admit we have, we’re going to lose.” Hmmm. So, you know you are inefficient, you haven’t done anything about it, and in effect are saying “Well, now that you are shopping, we want to change what we offer.” (read about it at https://federaltimes.com/index.php?S=1153147)

In California, the Indio Charter School offers mostly Hispanic students the best education in town, beating the 13 local public schools average test scores by a handsome margin. Moreover, the school offers families, many of whom visit Mexico on the weekends, a schedule of four longer days rather than the tradition five days, actually teaching for 110 extra minutes of instruction each week. Now the County is using the charter school’s schedule as an excuse to try to destroy it. Never mind that the schedule has been in place for years-the County only acted when the charter’s performance showed up the local public schools. While others whose customers have started to shop have worked to improve what they offer, Riverside County decided to try to eliminate the competition. (read about it at https://www.rppi.org/charterschoolstory.html)

Back again to our nation’s capital, where the Post Office is learning about shopping. After September 11th, USPS was no longer allowed to ship heavy mail on commercial airlines. So they switched to FedEx, with the unexpected result of cost savings and significantly higher customer satisfaction (oddly, they couldn’t say how much they are saving-way to know your business, guys). Too bad the Post Office wasn’t really acting like a business and shopping for the best deal before September 11th. (read about it at https://federaltimes.com/index.php?S=1153150

And last, but not least, in Philadelphia, the nation has watched the city’s controversial decision to turn over operation of many of its worst performing schools to Edison Schools Inc. It turns out Edison has a benchmark testing program that provides continuous feedback on each student’s academic weakness to teachers so they can fine tune their lessons. It took the other public schools in Philly almost no time flat to realize this is a good idea and began implementing a similar system. Too bad the public schools weren’t looking for ways to fine tune their lessons until their customer started to shop around. (read about it at https://educationweak.blogspot.com)

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but you have to see the same thing I do. There is a trend here. When the government shops smart, the taxpayers benefit. I’d like to see them shopping like it’s the post-Christmas sale season all year long.

Happy New Year!

”’Adrian Moore is the Vice President of Research for the Reason Foundation. He can be reached by email at:”’ mailto:Adrian.Moore@reason.org

”’Originally published by Reason Foundation, which is a public policy think tank promoting choice, competition and a dynamic market economy as the foundation for human dignity and progress. For more information, contact Geoffrey Segal, Director of Privatization and Government Reform Policy at:”’ mailto:geoffrey.segal@reason.org ”’Visit the Reason Web site at:”’ https://www.rppi.org ”’or go to the Reason Public Policy Institute’s Privatization Center at:”’ https://www.privatization.org ”’for information on government reform, privatization, contracting out and public/private partnerships.”’