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The emerging trend towards privatizing public services is a challenging one. It stems from a perception that private industries are much more effective than public ones. In the eyes of many individuals in American society, this is almost accepted without question. It was the motivating factor in the effort to privatize Indiana's public assistance program. In developing evaluation questions, I would suggest that this is one of the most important areas to analyze.
The first evaluation question that needs to be addressed in a critical manner would be how the benefits of privatization exactly meet the needs of Indiana citizens who receive government assistance. What are the inherent barriers that these individuals experience which would be minimized with the presence of privatization? In asking this question, a detailed plan of execution would be needed.
It seems that the efforts of the legislature and Governor Daniels were to engage in a plan of "welfare modernization." The Governor and members of the legislature who advocated the shift cited "an inefficient and antiquated public benefits eligibility system." The evaluation question of what this transformation was exactly going to resemble would be something that needs to be posed. This type of evaluation question seeks to strike at how the plan of "modernization" will look in an exact and focused manner. It would reveal that there might have been a fundamental disconnect between what was intended and who was going to be serviced as a result of it: "Advocates for the poor say the phone- and Internet-based system proved too difficult for many recipients to navigate because they lacked literacy and computer skills." An evaluation question that seeks to reconcile theoretical plans with the people who were going to be directly impacted would have revealed that the plan to computerize and digitally transform the receiving of benefits needed to be supplemented by both a transition period, an examination of access issues on the part of citizens, as well as extensive training and back- up plans for those who are not addressed by the plan.
At the same time, I think that needed to be a very clear evaluation question as to how the process of privatization was going to be a transparent one. This question lingered throughout the experience. Governor Daniels faced severe criticism that the executives who benefited from the privatizing plan made millions in an instance of political cronyism:
Opponents also accused the governor's office of steering work to a company owned by a campaign contributor, Affiliated Computer Services, now owned by Xerox. Daniels and Mitch Roob, an executive at Affiliated before becoming social-services chief, denied any quid pro quo.
Experts believe that when the issue of privatization presents itself, public governments must ensure that what they are displaying is completely clear to the public and lacking any issue of impropriety: "Contractual hygiene is pretty important,' said [John] Donahue, formerly an assistant secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. 'People tend to be paranoid about conflicts of interest, and for good reason." As the Governor was forced to deflect questions about his potential conflict of interest, the massive profit that the IBM- led consortium made out of the deal, and the fulfillment of the corporation entering public affairs narrative, an evaluation question that delved into transparency was needed. An evaluation question that outlined how the process of privatizing public assistance was going to be above reproach was something that should have been asked of both the state legislature and Governor Daniels.
Finally, I would suggest that there needs to be an evaluation question posed which is rooted in philosophy. Private companies are generated by the need to develop profit and schemes of amassing income. However, the public assistance program is one that exists outside of the realm of profit. The aims of both realities are fundamentally different. From a philosophical point of view, an evaluation question needed to be posed which asks how a corporate mentality can work in a setting that is devoid of profit- making motives? The public interest is something that lies outside of the real of generating income. Certainly, this would be the case in providing a $97 Medicaid payment to supplement a $600-a-month income to a senior citizen. There is no profit in this reality. How can a corporation, whose mentality is one of profit and developing means to achieve more of it, can enter the realm of public assistance, where profit is noticeably absent? Rooted in philosophy, this evaluation question would have generated significant discourse, a reality that was noticeably absent in the legislature's and Governor's rush towards Indiana's privatization effort.
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