How can I stop my city government from outsourcing the decision to outsource government services?
July 28, 2011 9:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for research or advocacy groups that are critical of governments that hire consulting firms such as KPMG for budgetary advice or auditing purposes. Other than The Yes Men, please ;)

I'm asking because I've noticed that conservative-leaning municipal governments in Canada (specifically in Toronto at the very moment) frequently employ one of the The Big Four consulting firms and not surprisingly, their advice tends to include the outsourcing or significant cuts to the civil service.

I'm trying to figure out a counter-strategy to this practice. I'm wondering if there are progressive auditing firms that could be commissioned instead. Or is the whole notion of asking consultant firms to make budgetary choices problematic to begin with?
posted by copystar to Law & Government (2 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, speaking as a consultant who does actually do this sort of work, I'd look into:

1) To what degree are politicians pre-determining the outcome of the studies by carefully defining the scope and using the "independent" result as a smokescreen. If you define the cost and performance metrics that you want to maximise in your re-organisation cleverly enough, then you can guarantee that the outcome will be whatever you want.

2) Related to the above, to what extent do the assumptions written into the scope reflect implicit policy decisions and political decisions? Policy is only supposed to be made by elected officials, but if you structure the assumptions right you can disguise ideologically driven political decisions as the logical outcome of a politically neutral technocratic process.

For instance, in the UK, the DLVA (issues driver's licenses) is located in Swansea. Is that the most efficient place to put it from a cost point of view? Maybe, maybe not. If you ask a consultant to answer that question taking into account the effect of secure, well paid civil service jobs on South Wales (which is not otherwise over-run with such jobs...) you will get a very different answer than if you tell them to look only at cost.

This is probably the key issue: government departments have more than one policy objective and if you tell your consultants to maximise cost savings and that the other objectives are out of scope, then that is the advice you will get.

Part of the role of governments in a multi-party democracy is to weigh those policy objectives against each other and reach a compromise solution, technocratic consulting organisations can't do that. McKinsey will never be able to tell you whether you should spend on education or on the military because that is a value judgement.

Another thing to investigate: how many of those automation, outsourcing, and re-organisation recommendations turn into further business for the non-strategy arms of the same company? If one of the Big-4 tells you to outsource your operations you need to remember that they have a big profitable operation that can help you do that.
posted by atrazine at 11:28 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks atrazine. I do understand that the "whoever pays the piper calls the tune" and so I will concentrate efforts to understand how the scope and scale of these reports are established and whether my city councilor can expand them before they get written.

Although, when the mayor of my city calls the meeting of the audit when he knows that my city councilor is on vacation, well, there's not much he can do.
posted by copystar at 3:30 AM on July 29, 2011

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