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Do Private Contractors Do Better Work?

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on January 23rd, 2006

Categorically no, if we're to take a lesson from a recent experiment in Fresno, California. Fresno's City Council conducted a year-long competition pitting private contractors against city public works crews to see who did a better job paving their assigned roads in the municipality.

The city crew and two contractors were each given five neighborhoods to pave. The city crew finished its work in September - ahead of schedule and on budget. One private contractor had finished only 20% of its work by September and had its contract terminated. The other contractor hadn't even started paving one of its neighborhoods, and instead asked the city for $750,000 to complete the work.

The mayor still says the competition is too close to call (!). Some council members saw the competition as a waste of money, and illustrative of how city contracts need closer consideration and accountability.

"Awarding these contracts out, the administration is playing Russian roulette with taxpayer money, and it's been a costly, very expensive experiment," said Councilman Henry T. Perea.