Government Business: Commentary on cultural and historical factors that shape public service markets internationally

Gary Sturgess, June 2010

Introduction

 

When it comes to involving the private sector in public service delivery, opinion differs greatly. So is there such a thing as an inherently governmental function?

Yet again the US federal government is grappling with the question of 'what activities are inherently governmental' - which functions are so inherently connected with public interest that they can be trusted only to government employees? Among other contracting reforms initiated by the Obama Administration, the Office of Management and Budget has been asked to clarify ‘when governmental outsourcing for services is and is not appropriate’. Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security has ruled that all professional service contracts exceeding $1 million are to undergo additional review to ensure that they do not include functions that are inherently governmental.

To public officials and public service companies in North America, this is familiar ground. Some have traced the ‘core business’ debate back to the Federalist Papers, where the founding fathers argued what functions would be appropriate for the national government to deliver. The fact that this is still being debated two centuries later suggests that we might not be asking the right question. There are few governments anywhere in the world that do not involve external providers in the delivery of some public services, but how they are engaged di ers markedly from one country to another.

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When it comes to involving the private sector in public service delivery, opinion differs greatly. So is there such a thing as an inherently governmental function?

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