Private businesses seek to replace state services

June 08, 1994|By David Conn | David Conn,Sun Staff Writer

Brian Stevenson, of Pitney Bowes Management Services in Washington, wants to deliver the government's inter-office mail. Maria Thornman, of Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.'s Hunt Valley office, hopes to provide highway employees' workers compensation insurance. And Don Jarratt, of Ruppert Landscape Co. Inc., in Ashton, wants to cut the state's lawns.

The state of Maryland is trying to reinvent itself. And these are some of the people in private business who want to help -- for a fee.

The concept is privatization, or turning over some government functions to private businesses. It received its second major hearing yesterday, at a conference at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

"There's been a lot of hype about privatization," said Mark L. Joseph, chairman of the Governor's Advisory Council on Privatization, which sponsored yesterday's conference. "Not everything deserves to be privatized."

BWI ironically is one of the few government entities that won't be privatized because it already runs more efficiently than most of the nation's airports, Mr. Joseph said.

But the conference gave the privatization council a chance to hear from nine businesses that hope to take over other aspects and do it better and cheaper.

The seven-member council also listened to a few of the executives who have been experimenting with privatization to various degrees.

Out of a roughly $2 billion annual budget, the Maryland Department of Transportation spends about 51 percent on private companies, according to Deputy Secretary Tom Osborne. The Maryland Aviation Administration, which employs fewer than 400 state workers, runs an airport that supports about 6,000 private sector jobs at BWI.

A consulting firm recently took a look at the University of Maryland System and came up with almost 200 services at the College Park campus alone that could be privatized, said Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg.

"The further an activity lies from the core mission [of an institution], the better a candidate it is for privatization," Dr. Langenberg explained.

The trouble lies in defining exactly what constitutes the core mission of government in general.

That has been the goal of the privatization council since it was formed in February 1993. Its job in the next month or two will be to follow up on the vendors' proposals.

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