Want Government Run Like A Business? There Is Something To Remember
Mainly that government is not a business. Oh, it obviously uses many techniques and devices like a business does, such as accounting, but it is not a business, it has a different function and purpose, and it operates under different rules.
Which would be wise for anyone in the, ahem, business of government to recall. And which may in some measure help explain some of the problems that have arisen in the administration of Governor Rick Snyder.
In recent weeks, Mr. Snyder has been battered by two scandals involving top officials. First, there was the matter of Scott Woosley, former head of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, who racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses. Then there was Rich Baird, one of Mr. Snyder’s closest advisors, who was getting primary homeowner tax breaks on a house here and another in the Chicago suburbs. Mr. Woosley has resigned his post, and Mr. Baird has paid the taxes he owes here.
One often hears the comment that government should be run like a business (ignoring the fact that a business can pretty much change prices, usually increasing them, at will or whenever it feels it must because of cost factors) and there is much to envy in the relative efficiency businesses can demonstrate in making marketing and product decisions, hiring and generally firing staff, and taking steps to boost profitability.
Businesses also tend to reward and sometimes look the other way when top performing executives run up some expenses or get unusual perks. If the executive delivers on business, then the companies tend to reward them and the executives tend to expect those perks in return.
Once as a business scribe I was on the sidelines of reporting on stories involving a well-known lawyer who was in the middle of a bankruptcy case who fiercely argued that he had to have a chauffeured limo because he could generate business on the cell phone if he was not driving.
Government does things more slowly, there are more rules and regulations to follow largely because all parties and all sides want to be sure that taxpayer dollars are protected, theoretically anyway, that all points of view are considered and that the decisions are in the best interest of the greater public.
When a business executive takes a government post it is admittedly hard for them, often, to remember that things are done differently on the public side than on the private side. The execs see they are to provide results for the public, and no one would dispute that, but they have to be reminded that the results have to come while living in the flea-bag hotel instead of the presidential suite. It doesn’t matter really matter how hard one works and what results one gets, it’s pretty clear the public wants top government service on the cheap as much as possible. When they don’t keep that in mind, well, then the public pays for lobster thermidor rather than Big Macs. And the public will only pay for Big Macs, and even then grudgingly.
Which is understandable. Nobody has to buy a business’s services or product, such a purchase is voluntary. The public accepts to some large degree the perks an exec in private life gets because they voluntarily have paid for it in return for something directly benefitting them. Taxes are compulsory, by contrast, one has to pay them and the benefits to the taxpayer are more indirect. So, the public is very unforgiving of any perks paid for with their tax dollars.
So, here is the conundrum all public executives need to remember: people want government run like a business, but it is not a business, and anything nice and deluxe and expensive that a business would approve the government can’t.Back to top