Contracting Through the Lens of Classical Pragmatism: An Exploration of Local Government Contracting
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Public administrators are responsible for providing public services to ensure the health, prosperity, and wellbeing of their communities. Serving as the ambassadors of public wellbeing, they are privy to an array of useful tools by which to achieve this goal. Contracting is but one such tool; however, with increased use over the past several decades, it has become an interesting factor in the study of public administration. Deeply rooted in American history, contracting has become a common method for providing public services. It has particularly enjoyed increased use since the 1970s with the emergence of public choice and other economic theories. The primary rationale behind its increased use has been to compensate for government deficiencies, namely inefficiency and higher costs in delivering public services, and dissolve government monopoly. This rationale, however, has been met with challenges. Critics argue its emphasis is stemmed in dangerous ideology and that such emphasis on contracting has led to less accountability, reduced quality, and even greater inequity among communities. Reviewing the literature, the research explored the nature of public service contracting, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses. Also through review of the literature, the research explored a new way to analyze contracting based on four principles of classical pragmatism: practical, pluralistic, participatory, and provisional orientations. The research further applied these pragmatic principles using a case study method with the City of Austin, Texas as the study environment. The research found that contracting from a pragmatic approach can relieve public administrators of their ideological bases, allowing them to approach problems more objectively. This in turn allows the administrator to fully place the needs of the community first and arrive at more appropriate solutions to problems. Evidence was found that the City of Austin is remarkably pragmatic in its contracting practices. This case study, while unique to Austin, may serve as a guide for other public administrators in ensuring their contracting practices sufficiently meet the needs of their communities in a pragmatic fashion.