Idea: Consolidate Services

Editor's Note: On February 6, we asked BlueOregon readers to suggest progressive ideas that the next Oregon Legislature should enact. Over the next several weeks, we'll post some of these ideas here - and ask you to discuss them. Good idea? Bad idea? Any suggestions?

From Jenni Simonis:

I'd like to see the state work to consolidate some of the services that we currently pay for. This goes along with the push this last year to consolidate health care purchasing for all the school employees.

It'd be nice to see them look into consolidate health care for all state/county/local government, tech support, purchasing, etc. Obviously in some areas you'd still need some localized control and employees. But if much of this was done centrally, you can decrease your costs. That allows you to have more money for other things. In some areas the consolidation might actually do more harm than good. But many times you can save money and even be more efficient.

Discuss.

[If you have your own original progressive idea to propose, do it here: "There oughta be a law."]

Comments

  • LT (unverified)
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    The question is logistics. For all you fans of Metro, that was a consolidation--think of each of the local governments in the 3 counties doing the services of Metro by themselves, that would be duplication. Should the city and county governments in the region vanish into Metro, or is there a reason they exist? I suspect there are some counties which double up in some areas (Marion / Polk, Linn / Benton, etc) if that works. Crook County, as I recall, has only the one county school district.

    But as AOL Time Warner found out, consolidation is not always the answer to everything.

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    Oh I definitely don't think consolidation is good everywhere.

    I was talking more about in areas like purchasing, tech support, health care, etc. Areas where if you consolidated into one contract you could save taxpayers a lot of money and still get just as good of service, if not better.

    Right now you have all the cities, counties, school districts, etc. getting many of the same services, products, etc. in small amounts. If you combine it all together (even if it's just regionally, like the metro area), you have greater purchasing power. And when it comes to something like tech support, you could pool your money to have a really good tech support team that works for the entire group, not one part-time person here and one full time person there.

    I'm not talking about consolidating and getting rid of city or county government or anthing like that.

  • Former Salem Staffer (unverified)
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    Any attempts at consolidation at the state level would be quickly defeated by the public employees unions. I was privy to the budgeting process, and there were, and still are, several instances of different agencies with overlapping duties. But "consolidation" is a dirty word in Salem, and there are a lot of people working very hard to maintain the status quo. It is a good idea, though, but not one that is very likely to warrant serious consideration.

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    I think consolidation has become a dirty word because people have become accustomed to that meaning lay offs and job cuts.

    I think if done right, it actually means less lay offs, since we'll have the money to spend in other places.

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    And I should say that much of the consolidation I'm thinking of don't revolve around jobs-- it's contracts and the like.

    So one big contract for the paper suppliers, for health care (as tried to go through the legislature this last time), etc.

    Many small governmental groups (such as small towns) are paying a lot more for their contracts than a big city like Portland would.

    Obviously we'd have to actually sit down and look at all the various areas and see if it's worth it to consolidate. But it is definitely something that should be looked at.

  • Robert Harris (unverified)
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    Seems like "consolidation" or "consolidation of services" has become a liberal mantra equivilent to conservatives who say "waste fraud and abuse" should be eliminated. As if the phrase alone actually means something. Its easy to say, but its not an idea for better government unless its moored to real facts and action.

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    The consolidation I would like to see is within Multnomah County and Portland. For example, it is crazy that we have a Sherrif's office and Portland police driving by each other and handing criminals back and forth. The county sheriff's office is also dysfunctional. Let's make it go away and the non-Portland cities can contract with Portland for what are now county services or do it themselves. Same goes for Bridges. What on earth makes bridges part of the county when most of the roads are maintained by the city. Let the county focus on welfare services and the library where there is no duplication.

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    There are plenty of real facts.

    For starters, look at health insurance for governmental employees. You'd get a better deal on insurance if all the plans were bought together as one package. That's what the legislature tried to do with school employees.

    Or purchasing. You get a better deal on supplies the more you purchase. So why can't all the governmental agencies within, say, the metro area have one purchasing contract for items?

    Or tech support. How many governmental agencies have contracts for phone support? By purchasing that contract as a larger block, you can get a better deal.

    I'm not saying there's waste, fraud, and abuse. I'm talking about streamlining some things so that there is less duplication of effort, smaller entities can get the same level of service and products at a lower price, and money can be saved at all levels.

  • Harold Cade (unverified)
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    Sorry to be so pessimistic, but it's going to take a revolution to save a dime.

    I just finished a standard state maximum, ~1050 hour contract, writing code for the TWIST FamilyNet application that DHS uses to administer the WIC and Immunization programs. It was my experience that the higher-ups are positively proud of their ability to waste money and resist any legislation that is passed to curtail their squandering our tax dollars. To them it is 100% a battle of wills, and I have not seem them loose yet, despite constant, negative fallout from their decisions. When the budget didn't square, DHS announced it was cutting 100 field positions. None in the Office of Information Services. After the project manager was nearly indicted, no changes were made during the subsequent five years the project was spending hundreds of dollars/hour on consultants. Oversight is considered rude.

    Besides poor managment, I documented cases where I was specifically instructed to alter data routines with the effect of falsifying data being sent to the USDA. They openly harrass co-workers. State staff refer to the abortions database as "Rusty Coathanger". In short, they are pretty damned lawless. BTW, for those that say, "It's state government"- and I heard it until I was sick- I did the same work for the Louisiana Department of Revenue in 1999. They took the time to get their fraud passed in the legislature first, and were squeaky clean employers during the project. And their technology then was 5 years in advance of what OIS is using now. That was Louisiana in 1999. Not exacly known for their "best practices" but they blow us away.

    I went through all the proper channels to protest. No one at DHS is interested. Contractors have no "non-harrasment" rights, even though we sign the same employee agreements that the full time folks do. The State committee reviewing DHS operations has no response. The company that supplied me to the State suddenly has no positions for me. Bottom line: the inertia is unimaginable.

    I've been called totally crazy- yes, by Jenni, I believe- but I'll say it again. You have to reduce state wages to the point that it is only, just barely, a living wage (which I consider $10-$15/hr). I saw lots of people that come in very idealistic and would work that way. They're instantly recognized and destroyed or converted. Really, ask somebody that's been in state government here for a while.

    The message has to be that government work is service, not an equivalent to the corporate world. You can shop around. Your taxes, however, are taken by force under threat of violence. It is not the same.

    It is nice to know that a few people do still consider such things though...

  • Robert Harris (unverified)
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    Jenni,

    Don't mean to steal LT's line, but saying something is so doesn't make it so. Saying you can save by bundling bids on goods and services doesn't make it a fact. What you say may seem intuitively correct, but my personal experience is that when public employees buy goods and services for their agencies, they are pretty stingy. Which is a good thing. They call around, they try to piggyback on other contracts, they ask for discounts. They are on strict budgets and if they can save a dime for their budet they will.

    Regarding the one area where you did present some facts, bundling public school employees insurance, either the school boards or the employees or both killed that intiative. I would refer you to the post by Former Salem Staffer on that issue.

    The one area where consolidation could save money for agencies is in consolidation of department, reducing levels of administration and stramlining delivery systems of state provided services. For this type of consolidation to work, there would have to be RIF's. of state employees. For the hurdles there, I'd again refer you to Former Salem Staffers viewpoint.

    Again, I'm not saying government shouldn't try to get bulk discounts whenever possible, just really, don't expect to save substantial sums of money from it. Any more than you can save much money by rooting out somoene version of "waste fraud and abuse"

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    Actually, the health care insurance bundling almost passed this last session. It was another of those bills that Minnis & Co. never allowed a vote on. Had it come to a vote, it would have likely passed.

    I never said they weren't stingy when purchasing items. However, when it comes to contracts with outside entities for goods or services, you get a better deal the more you're buying for. I've done purchasing for a governmental office before, and that's just a matter of common sense.

    While it may not be huge savings, it may be that enough is saved in each department that they can save a few people from lay offs. To me, that's a good thing.

    In the past I've heard of states where this has been done-- often times on a "metro area" scale. And they've been successful at it.

    We just need to look at where it would make sense to do so, and would it save enough money to justify the effort?

    These ideas were just that-- ideas. They aren't full proposals filled with facts, statistics, etc. They're just ideas of things that can be done in the state.

    I think it's wrong just to blow off an idea just because some interest group might not like it, or because you don't think there would be any benefit. How do we know there won't be a benefit if we don't look?

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