Rep. Gerry Connolly Should Support the Freedom From Government Competition Act

What do parking lots, lotteries, roads, airports, horse race tracks, parks, recycling, golf courses, mapping, food service, pest control, and zoos have in common?

All across America, these are activities formerly operated by government that are now being run as businesses through privatization, contracting out, or public-private partnerships.

Cities as diverse as Chicago, Phoenix, Charlotte, Indianapolis and San Diego all have impressive bipartisan records for undertaking various forms of managed competition – turning government monopolies into enterprises subject to a competitive market.  Mayors and Governors, Republicans and Democrats, have discovered the power of the market to improve the delivery of commercially available services.

In Virginia, the Competitive Government Act (2.2 Code of Virginia 5512-5513) assures that, “The Governor shall cause to be conducted an examination of the commercial activities that are being performed by state employees at state agencies and institutions to ensure such activities are being accomplished in the most cost-efficient and effective manner.”  

These laws implement the “’Yellow Pages’ Test.”  That’s a principle that says if government is doing something that can also be obtained from a private company listed in the Yellow Pages of the phone book, it should be studied to determine if service quality, cost, and innovation can be improved through the private sector so that government employees are focused on higher priority, “inherently government” activities only the government can perform.

There is a critical need to implement such a reform in the Federal government.  According to the Office of Management and Budget, 1.2 million Federal employees, 53 percent of the non-postal, non-uniformed military workforce of the Federal government are in jobs that are commercial in nature.  Most of these jobs and functions have never been analyzed for potential private sector performance.

In order to implement the Yellow Pages Test across the Federal government, Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Representative John J. “Jimmy” Duncan, Jr. (R-TN) will introduce the Freedom from Government Competition Act.  This bill does not mandate privatization, divestiture, or contracting out.  However, it does put in place a process to review every commercial activity in the Federal government so we can assure taxpayers they are getting “the most bang for the buck” of their tax dollar we spend, as is the case in Virginia law.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has begun action on H.R. 1339. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11-VA) is a senior member of the committee and Vice-Ranking Democrat.

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the new Fairfax County Executive “warned the Board of Supervisors that the county of 1.1 million residents must learn how to do more with less until and unless more businesses move into Fairfax and federal spending in the county rises back toward a peak of $26.4 billion in 2012.”  With its large concentration of federal contractors, Fairfax, and Northern Virginia, stand to gain immensely by the enactment of H.R. 1339.

When Congress held a hearing on the bill, witnesses included two Thomas Jefferson Institute supporters,  Maurice McTigue the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and John Palatiello, a government reform consultant from Reston.

With an annual deficit of more than $600 billion and a national debt now exceeding $21 trillion, we cannot afford to perpetuate inefficient bureaucracies and have government doing things better left to private enterprise.  For the good of the Nation and Northern Virginia, Rep. Connolly’s leadership in support of H.R. 1339 is needed.

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About Mike Thompson

Michael Thompson is currently the Chairman on the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, the state’s premier independent public policy foundation that has gained broad based respect from political and business leaders throughout Virginia. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Thomas Jefferson Institute or its Board of Directors.
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