Overview: These pages profile research by Professor Warner and colleagues on the nature of local government restructuring in the United States. They also contain a review of the literature on government restructuring, including annotated bibliographies and links to summaries of many of the articles and books cited.
Intermunicipal cooperation or shared services is now as common as for-profit privatization in local governments across the U.S. Intermunicipal cooperation may be defined as an arrangement between two or more governments for accomplishing common goals, providing a service, or solving a mutual problem. It is a useful strategy to achieve efficient and effective service delivery and promote regional coordination. This page highlights a new research initiative in New York State on shared services as well as relevant literature on several aspects of intermunicipal cooperation, with links to more in-depth summaries.
Privatization is a worldwide phenomenon. In recent years all levels of government, seeking to reduce costs, have begun turning to the private sector to provide some of the services that are ordinarily provided by government. The spread of the privatization movement is grounded in the fundamental belief that market competition in the private sector is a more efficient way to provide these services and allows for greater citizen choice. In practice, however, concerns about service quality, social equity, and employment conditions raise skepticism of privatization. In New York State, labor concerns are also a major issue. Although empirical studies do not provide clear evidence on the costs and benefits of privatization, public perception and pressure for improved government efficiency will keep privatization on the government agenda.
Decentralization refers to the global trend of devolving the responsibilities of centralized governments to regional or local governments. The promise of decentralization is to enhance efficiency (through inter-governmental competition and fiscal discipline) and democratic voice (though enhanced local voice over service provision). Decentralization works best in settings where there are strong traditions of democracy, accountability and professionalism in subnational government. Decentralization may enhance productive efficiency but will undermine allocative efficiency by making redistribution more difficult, especially in areas with regional inequality.
The new generation of free trade agreements is designed to promote market penetration in public service delivery. However attention to creating freer markets has come at the expense of basic governance protocols potential trumping the courts system, legislation and citizen voice.
The modern metropolitan area typically contains multiple political jurisdictions. Public choice theorists argue political fragmentation will enhance choice and efficiency in local government service provision. However, the political fragmentation of the metropolitan area makes it difficult to address economic development, service provision or democratic voice at the regional level. Consolidationists argue that regional government is the solution. However, support for regionalism is weak. Alternatives such as inter-municipal cooperation or functional consolidation (specific to a service) have been much more popular. These solutions also raise problems of equity and democratic representation and the ability to address the need for broader multi-functional coordination.
Sparked by privatization and business-model prescriptions for government, a debate has emerged as to the primary responsibilities of public managers. There are those who see public administration as akin to a business-providing a choice of services to citizens, at the lowest possible cost. Others believe that public management's responsibilities extend beyond this, to the preservation of public values such as equity, accountability and citizen voice. From this debate stem questions about the nature of citizenship, and the proper relationship between a democratic government and its citizens.
As government shifts from direct provision to use of third parties for service delivery, new challenges with respect to management, accountability and citizenship are raised. It may actually be harder to exercise control or ensure accountability when government is part of an interdependent network. This is why many scholars use the term governance rather than government to describe current conditions. These network governance arrangements alter the nature of citizenship as well, creating a democratic deficit. This section concludes with an overview of the recent free trade agreements and their impact on democracy and governments’ ability to use third parties for public service provision.
Conducted with Professor Warner's students related to economic development, infrastructure financing and service delivery.