Private hurricane cleanup faster, cheaper
January 6, 2006 - The New York Times recently ran a fascinating story on post-hurricane cleanup efforts in Mississippi. Some towns, like Biloxi, have cleaned up most of the debris and now boast busy bulldozers that have already cleared hundreds of lots so they are ready for rebuilding. Others, like Pascagoula, are still filled with debris and “the only movement, nearly four months after the passing of Hurricane Katrina, comes from the stray cats that jump in and out of ripped-open homes.”
Is there a pattern to these disparities? It turns out that there is.
Towns and counties that went with the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers to handle the cleanup (with the feds footing the bill) are finding the going slow. Pascagoula is one of these.
Those that hired private contractors (with the feds still paying the tab) are finding the job done more quickly and efficiently - and costing taxpayers less.
Specifically, the cleanup in communities that used private contractors is now, on average, about 70 percent done. In those that used the Corps, cleanup is about 45 percent completed.
Communities that hired private contractors are billing taxpayers an average of $14 a cubic yard for cleanup (Pascagoula got it for $7.80). The Corps charges taxpayers $17 to $19 a cubic yard.
Part of the reason is the paperwork and bureaucracy involved when the Corps does the job. Memos pass up and down chains of command, and sometimes it seems nobody can make a decision. The private contractors can move more quickly.
In disaster cleanup, as in almost everything else, the private sector can do things better and cheaper. So why do we keep expanding the government sector?