Privatization and the “Google Test”

by Matthew Glans on June 24, 2011

A new article by Eli Lehrer, originally published on June 21 in the Muskegon Chronicle, discusses presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty’s “Google test,” which argues that any service that can be provided by the private market and found on the Internet should not be considered a role appropriate for government.

“Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty has gotten a lot of flack from liberals and conservatives alike for his proposal that the nation cut government through what he calls the “Google test.” In a Chicago speech earlier this month, the former Minnesota governor put it this way: “If you can find a good or service on the Internet, then the federal government probably doesn’t need to be doing it.”

Contrary to the moans from the liberal blogosphere and more than a few editorial pages, the idea is actually a good, well-proven one. But by itself it’s not likely to result in big taxpayer savings.

What Pawlenty calls the “Google test” began as a “Yellow Pages test” proposed in the early 1990s by then-Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith. Soon after he came into office, Goldsmith asked government to compete with the private sector in places where multiple private-sector firms were listed in the Yellow Pages.”

In his article, Eli agrees in part with Pawlenty that privatization of some government services is a good way to save taxpayers money. However, Eli stresses privatization alone is not enough to bring down government spending.

“The federal government already does a lot of contracting out, however, which will reduce potential savings from the plan. The government has made very heavy use of contractors to do everything from operating the space shuttle to running the Transportation Security Administration’s back office. Even with the enormous growth of government under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the government directly employs fewer people than it did in the late 1960s. Although there are plenty of overweight behemoths in the federal bureaucracy, some entities such as the Social Security Administration manage big programs with very small direct staff and overhead components.

In addition, several of the federal government’s biggest spending items — entitlements, defense and debt interest — can’t really save much money unless they are fundamentally reformed. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (the latter two already administered and delivered by private-sector entities) can be made less expensive through restructuring, but simply changing the way they are delivered won’t have a big impact on the budget.

Similarly, private contractors already help with some military tasks, but obviously they shouldn’t make national security decisions, and any big savings will have to come from policy changes. Ultimately, the areas where one could save significant money through the “Google test” are in domestic discretionary spending—less than 20 percent of the federal budget.”

Eli’s article, “Privatizing not the entire answer, tough choices are,” can be found online at:

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