January 16, 2021

Outsourcing government services can be THE New Mexican solution

Posted on 30. Mar, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

Governments and outsourcing go hand in hand. Most governments of the western democratic capitalist variety couldn’t function without a well-developed and efficient outsourcing of services. The degree or level of outsourcing has traditionally been dependent upon two things: ideology and budgets. In the conventional Democrat Party/liberal/progressive model, government should be large and outsource as little as possible while controlling as much as possible. In the Republican Party/conservative model, government should be as small as possible and control as little as possible. I suspect that most Americans’ preferences fall somewhere in the middle of these two polar-opposite positions. I know mine does. Leaving the ideological argument aside for a moment, let’s look at our own state governance challenges through the prism of the pragmatist or state legislator. We have an upcoming budget balancing act that would test even the Flying Wallendas with a $300 million shortfall in Medicare, not to mention a few more hundred million that need to be cut in 2011. How will we remove this economic sword of Damocles from above our heads? Will we raise taxes? Eliminate some Medicare services? Cut education funds or furlough State workers, freeze their salaries and downsize their retirement benefits?  We will probably do a little bit of all of the above. On taxes, we will probably get higher ‘user fees’ (a euphemism for taxes). On Medicare, we will probably reduce some administration costs and eliminate some procedures. Education cuts will come first in the form of capital equipment and bricks and mortar but will extend into programs.  State workers will also share in the budget reduction pain, but there are ways to reduce costs associated with government services without sacrificing the services themselves.

Outsourcing or privatization?

This brings me to outsourcing or privatization. Both terms are pertinent for this discussion but are not interchangeable. Outsourcing moves functions from one place and puts them somewhere else. It can be a temporary solution or a permanent one. Privatization, on the other hand, is usually thought of as a permanent solution, taking public sector services and turning them over to the private sector (though the decisions can be reversed).  If you’re a ‘progressive’ Democrat, both terms are reprehensible because they represent a move away from government service delivery.  If you’re a ‘conservative’ Republican you will probably accept both as viable options. Those of us who live in real time on planet Earth know that nothing is forever and that each decision we make is usually not made solely on the basis of ideology. Outsourcing can help New Mexico as a temporary solution to salvage services that may or may not lead to eventual privatization.  We have over 20,000 State workers spread out all over the State, but principally concentrated in our high population density areas. They are members of the State retirement system, get sick days, vacation time, holiday pay, per diem and use State facilities and equipment like vehicles, computers, etc. They perform a wide variety of services for us from filling potholes, to writing/enforcing regulations, educating our children and everything in between. That’s the status quo, and many don’t want it changed.  Problem is we can’t afford it anymore.  That’s why we must look carefully at outsourcing more of our government services, but before we do we MUST be in agreement on what current State-provided services are necessary.  That’s a discussion we need to have before the cost-cutters are turned loose with their scalpels. We must not them eliminate efficient delivery systems that have already run the gauntlet of time-consuming, expensive field-testing unless, of course, those systems are inefficient, too costly or in competition with the private sector.

Government often steps in to fill a void when it sees one, but it’s not usually a decision based on a plan. It’s more often an action precipitated by political ideology. Right now we’re at T minus 10 and counting on critical decision-making, and we must not let the opportunity to achieve real savings pass us by.  Similarly, we have an obligation to use the full measure of our expertise to find an affordable way to meet the service needs of our citizens. Any new solution must be reflective of reality and be a true public/private sector one that is rooted in reason not ideology.

Stephan Helgesen is the former Director of the State’s Office of Science and Technology and retired Foreign Service Officer having lived and worked in 20 countries. He is Honorary German Consul for New Mexico and CEO of Second Opinion Marketing, a high-tech consultancy company in Albuquerque.

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