Monday, November 12, 2007

Devolution to nonprofits and the markets

Photo Credit: Center For Environmental Health Photo, via

Devolution - the shifting of responsibilities once met by the federal government to state or municipalities - is nothing new. Nor is devolution to nonprofits anything really new. Devolution to market entities also isn't new, its just called "privatization." So, this post isn't new, its just an update on some amazing examples of where this is happening and how it relates to a constant theme of this blog - the blurring of sectors, the shifting roles of public, private and independent.

The American federal government gave up its responsiblity for risk assessment years ago when it defunded the Office of Technology Assessment. Denise Caruso wrote an entire (must-read) book on methods and alternatives that have developed in academic and nonprofits to fill that gap.

More recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has asked Congress NOT to give it any more money or staff, (please let us be defunded) even as lead painted toys and poison-spiked dog food spread across the country. A California nonprofit, the Center for Environmental Health, has (literally) taken mattes into their own hands, measuring lead in toys and lunch boxes and negotiating with retailers to pull these items from their shelves.

And then there is the outsourcing of libraries. Library Systems and Services, a privately held Maryland company is now running "public" libraries for communities in Texas, California and Tennessee.

I'll say it again, the revenue stream and markets of providers for public goods is not what you think it is.

No comments: