Office of Privatization
Oklahoma is getting ready to pass a law to allow a state agency to study the aspects of privatizing parts of state government.
Senate Bill 1008, to create the Office of Privatization, has now passed the House and the Senate.
With privatization supported by a majority of lawmakers it could easily move to the governor.
Proponents of privatization usually quote the mantra: “If it’s listed in the Yellow Pages than it doesn’t need to be done by the Government”
In other words, if something is currently done in the private sector, then it should be taken out of the hands of the public sector.
That’s the goal behind Senate Bill 1008 to create the Office of Privatization.
Senator Greg Treat created the bill to have a one-stop shop for the issue of privatization under the control of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
“It’s in order to have a repository of information and expertise on how to privatize state functions. Currently everything we do is on an ad hoc basis, so if we move to privatize something we have to recreate the wheel every time.”
Oklahoma is no stranger to privatization becoming one of the first states to use private prisons in the early 90s.
Right now, just under 25% of Oklahoma prisoners are eligible for medium or higher security prisons, according to the Department of Corrections.
DOC Director Justin Jones likes the idea of a centralized focus on privatization for all of Oklahoma rather than an agency by agency approach.
“Let’s do an analysis, you know, let’s look at the research on privatize food service, or let’s look at the research on privatizing the manufacturing of inmate clothing or something like that. It’s certainly healthy.”
Having dealt closely with the privatization of services, Jones warns that any move must be done cautiously to protect the taxpayer.
“Contracting with private prisons is no different than when we out sourced our pharmacy or outsourced our kidney dialysis. You want to make sure you’re getting quality in your outsourcing of medical services.”
The Office of Privatization idea originated from Governor Fallin’s Bold Ideas Task Force in 2011 made up of about 45 people from the private sector.
So, it has her support as well as the Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger who would oversee the office.
While he hopes this will help improve state government to work more efficiently, Doerflinger says switching from public to private services can’t be taken lightly.
“If you privatize something and you’re no longer providing that service within state government and you basically break down your structure that you had to provide that service, then it’s going to be expensive to try and bring that service back into house.”
SB 1008 originally created an entirely new office, but was changed after opposition from Republicans who felt it was just creating another agency within state government.
So, it has since been amended to utilize the existing employees within the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Doerflinger says his office and current personnel are quite capable of doing this without more hires.
“It might require some additional skills to add to the team that we don’t currently have, but I certainly believe this agency has within it the ability to evaluate these types of opportunities and determine if they are viable or not.”
While the bill is getting strong support from the majority Republicans, Democrats are fighting it.
Oklahoma City Representative Richard Morrissette voted against the bill in House committee and is fighting what he calls a constant push to privatize all of government.
“There are functions like, it just goes right to the base core, when your house is on fire, you call the fire department when there’s a burglar at your door you call the police department, there are some functions in our society that are best done by the government entity.”
While Morrissette agrees there needs to be public-private partnership, he sees a much more serious path laid out by the GOP.
“What they’re after folks is to take your tax dollars and put it in the pockets of their crony friends that’s what this is about okay. It’s not about efficiencies it’s not about doing things better. It’s about taking public money and putting it in the hands of their crony friends.”
But, Senator Treat says any function which can be taken over by the private sector should be handed over to a company.
“A good example is collecting past due moneys. There are plenty of collections companies in the United States and Oklahoma specifically that do that with a much greater success rate than we do internally.”
Treat says he believes the private sector can do work more efficiently and effectively saving the state money.
The Senate passed the bill 36 to 10, and the House passed it 65 to 28.
The bill will return to the Senate in order to accept House amendments to keep the duties in the OMES rather than creating a new agency.