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Public Organizations Undergoing Change: A Study in Urban Contracting

Author: ROBERT SHICK and LYNNE A. WEIKART
Published in PAQ, Vol. 33 No. 1

Contracting-out of government services is an important issue facing government entities in the twenty-first century. This paper is a case study that examines this issue in New York City after major revisions were enacted to the City’s Charter in 1989 to improve governance, deter corruption and promote efficiency in contracting.
The paper examines who controls the contracting process; is this function solely under the purview of the chief executive or the function is shared with other elected officials, including the legislature; do checks and balances in the procurement system exist and how control of the contracting process affects the potential for corruption. Efficiency in the contracting process is reflected in the details of the policy and practices that determine the effectiveness of contracting. The most important of these practices are: standardization of contracting rules, timeliness in awarding contracts, promotion of competition, use of technology, training and professionalism of government staff. The overall success or failure of these efforts is significantly affected by the leadership of the chief executive and the administrators of the agencies of government.
The paper shows that major change in public organizations is an extremely complex issue involving the chief executive, government administrators and other elected officials in the political process. Improvements in New York City’s contracting process occurred in the Mayoral administrations of David Dinkins, Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. However, if the new efforts to simplify the contracting process on the part of the Bloomberg administration do not result in significant reductions in processing times, then only incremental change has taken place in the contracting process in New York City. Major changes in the contracting process have eluded both the mayors and government administrators. The authors conclude by discussing lessons learned to assist other government entities in their change efforts.

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