Accountability part of privatization discussion

INDIANAPOLIS -- Accountability and transparency are issues when a government operation is privatized, according to panelists discussing privatization trends at the 2006 Freedom of Information Summit.

Speakers included Ellen Dannin, a law professor at Wayne State University, J. David Donahue, Indiana Corrections Commissioner, Dennis Houlihan, from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Geoffrey Segal from the Reason Foundation.

Supporters of privatization say it creates competition, which leads to better service and lower prices. But the panelists did not agree whether that actually was the end result.

Dannin questioned levels of accountability in a privatized government operation and whether competition really exists in these operations, citing examples from a number of states that have privatized operations such as welfare-to-work programs and highway operations.

"All issues boil down to accountability," she said.

Donahue made a case for privatization, saying that it helps to control costs and enhance services, while reducing the time needed to get things done. According to Donahue, privatization allows the government to buy a service that couldn't be delivered efficiently or effectively in government.

"Competition breeds excellence in the government sector," he said.

Segal stated that there is a lot about privatization that both sides would agree on, such as the need for accountability and the ability to measure results. He said that a competitive environment is better than a monopoly, and the result should be savings and quality service.

Some panelists also questioned whether records of a privatized operation would be as accessible as one operated directly by government.

Houlihan said privatization can create two sides of government, an open government and a shadow government, or the privatized part that people don't know everything about. He said that he would instead like to see "all government open to the sunshine."