With much fanfare, Governor Bush ushered in the era of privatization in Florida. Between 1999 and early 2005, the Governor entered into approximately 140 contracts with private entities for services that had been provided by state workers. This drive to privatize was called “The Florida Model” and held as an example for other states to follow. (www.rppi.org/floridamodel.shtml).
The wholesale privatization of services in Florida has had a profound impact on its workers, its lawmakers and, most importantly, its residents and taxpayers. But has Governor Bush lived up to the ideal he set forth in his State of the State address? Has the state been able to “provide essential services responsibly”? Has privatization created a “climate of achievement” for entrepreneurs, communities, and families? Have the private vendors that have taken over these services succeeded in whole or in part?
Privatization of this size and scope is unprecedented, and while Florida’s experiment has not been in place long enough for a comprehensive analysis, an overview of several major initiatives shows cause for serious concern. Those initiatives include:
- People First, under contract to Convergys, which was established to take over the human resources function from the state;
- MyFloridaMarketplace, the purchasing function, under contract to Accenture;
- the Department of Corrections, and;
- foster care and adoption services in the Department of Children and Families.
In Governor Bush’s 2003 inaugural address, he said:
“There will be no greater tribute to our maturity as a society than if we can make these buildings around us empty of workers; as silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill.”
The Governor’s rapid pace in emptying those buildings drew concern, even from some of his allies. The president of Florida Tax Watch, a self-described, “watchdog of citizens’ hard-earned tax dollars”, stated, “I’m a strong believer in the competitive delivery of government services, but if it’s not done right and in a thorough, disciplined, and accountable fashion, it can backfire.” (http://www.floridataxwatch.org/aboutus/index.php)
To determine whether privatization “backfired,” People First, the state’s largest contracting out venture, is a good place to begin.