Across the nation, private companies are looking to take over public services. A legislative battle in Sacramento over a bill to privatize state trial courts epitomizes the promises and pitfalls of privatization.
Assembly Bill 566 (Wieckowski, D-Fremont) would require that before contracting services out, courts must provide proof of cost savings, create employment standards, engage in a competitive bidding process and undergo regular financial and performance audits. The bill now sits on the governor’s desk for signature or veto, and the lobbying on both sides is intense.
As in most debates over outsourcing of public services, its opponents’ central claim is that privatizing essential courtroom services such as court reporting, processing cases, probate investigations and interpretive services, saves dollars.
Yet the track record on privatization of public services and assets is decidedly mixed. Public agencies that hire private companies without strong mechanisms of accountability, transparency, rigorous evaluations of contracting costs and standards have learned this the hard way.