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The Business Of Government
Friday, Jan. 28, 2011
A cartoon in this week’s New Yorker magazine shows a teacher explaining the three branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial. A student raises his hand and asks “What about business—which branch is that?”
Good question. Over the past 15 years the role of business in government has changed from one of partnership to one of privatization. People began to ask why government couldn’t act more like a business, not understanding there are fundamental differences in both the purpose and structure of each.
One government service up for debate is the potential privatization of Detroit’s municipal water and sewer system. Setting aside the merits of both sides of the argument, I will focus on what I call the “accountability factor.”
While government operations may not be perfect, they are intended to be transparent. Contracts are to be fairly bid, work completed on time and within budget. Any slip-ups are subject to public scrutiny, and in some cases, lead to sanctions. The costs are out in the open, and the obligation is to serve the community, not the shareholders.
As budgets continue to shrink and the cost of services continue to rise, it will be important for government and business to begin to work together again. There is the possibility that such an arrangement would bring “the best of both worlds.”
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