Editor’s note: the following is a response to an opinion piece by Peter Brownellresearch director at the San Diego-based nonprofit Center on Policy Initiatives. Below, Felipe Monroig expresses his belief that managed competition allows for cities to save money on essential services.

Originally posted at Voice of San Diego.
By Felipe Monroig.

Contrary to the opinion expressed last week by Peter Brownell, managed competition works in San Diego.

In the short two years the city has been actively using managed competition, we have seen real annual cost savings on services in the millions.

This money has been directed toward services like public safety and much needed infrastructure investments rather than put back into bloated and inefficient city functions.

The first few examples of managed competition provide insight into what has worked well, and areas where the city can still improve. Can we make the process better? Yes. Should we? Absolutely.

There is nothing “inherently governmental” in many of the services provided by city government. For example, Brownell’s op-ed last week used trash pickup as an example of a service that is “inherently governmental,” and can and should only be done by government employees.

The daily experience of many San Diegans proves him wrong.

Various private haulers in the city and throughout the county successfully pick up our trash and dispose of it in landfills. Every other city in San Diego County uses private haulers to provide this important service to residents. When is the last time you heard of massive uncollected mountains of trash due to a greedy contractor not doing their job?

By the way, your trash might go to a privately owned landfill or to the city-owned landfill. Nothing “inherently governmental” there either.

Every case of managed competition to date has included a meeting with prospective bidders, including city employee groups, early in the process. Private vendors attend each meeting because they already do similar work for other governments and/or private clients.

One needed improvement in this process would be to get more vendors not only to show up for these meetings, but also bid on the work. Both government employees and private vendors should be encouraged to provide innovative solutions on how they can better provide requested services.

The fact is, every government in America buys a large number of goods and services from the private sector every day. Governments decide what they need and who can provide it for the best value, just as we do in our private lives.

It’s a government’s job to ensure critical services are provided, not necessarily to provide all of them directly. Managed competition offers governments greater choice in who provides services, allowing them to focus on achieving the quality of service we need at the most reasonable cost to taxpayers.

It’s important to point out that managed competition isn’t about cutting services, as Brownell implied. It’s about determining needed service levels and getting the best price.

To improve managed competition, we need to define desired levels of service better and become flexible enough to change them accordingly. The independent budget analyst has confirmed this.

Brownell began his op-ed by comparing managed competition to an unreliable car that the city should scrap. I’m reminded that the city purchases all its vehicles from companies rather than manufacturing them itself. Do you think the city should start designing and building all its own vehicles because it’s “inherently governmental”?

I didn’t think so.

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Felipe Monroig is president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.