March 27, 2008
"Privatization failure is taxpayers' burden"

This Statesman editorial nails it.

Because of an effort five years ago to run part of state government more like a business, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission is struggling to provide food and medical services to some of the state's poorest people. It's a disaster that ought to be remembered every time a legislator or lobbyist starts babbling that "privatization" of this or that state service will boost efficiency, lower costs to taxpayers and cure all fraud and waste.

As the American-Statesman's Corrie MacLaggan outlined in a Sunday story, the commission's staff of about 6,500 workers -- down from about 10,400 in 1998 despite the state's population growth -- who determine the eligibility of applicants for aid is heavily overworked and increasingly inexperienced. Since September, the commission has hired 1,010 workers, even as 733, including veterans who know the system, quit.

These employees process applications for food stamps and Medicaid for about 3.7 million people. To do so, they must master both the rules for qualifying and the computer systems to track applicants. Because of the staff's workload and inexperience, many applicants are having to wait too long for help.

Those tempted to shrug off the departures as "good-bye, good riddance" should understand that such turnover hits taxpayers in the pocketbook. It costs $7,500 to train an eligibility worker, so when one leaves, the investment in training is not only lost, more must be spent for the next worker.


You can argue that the privatization theory is correct but, in this case, was badly carried out; or that the theory is wrong and no amount of competence could have saved it; or that the theory is wrong and it was incompetently carried out.

What's not debatable is that this attempt to run state government more like a business failed. And the price for that failure is being paid by taxpayers, the state workers and poor people who truly need the help.

Amen. Be sure to read that Sunday Statesman article, too. I believe the HHSC fiasco will be one of the biggest components of Rick Perry's legacy when he finally leaves office. In so many ways, it characterizes his tenure as Governor. The Bluebonnet blog has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 27, 2008 to Budget ballyhoo