12 Nov 2009

How to get bureaucracies to conserve water

There are many examples of government wasting water (sprinklers in the rain, etc.)

Although these examples make good press ("oh no, not again!"), they do little to reduce such waste.

Here's how to reduce that waste: Charge them.

I am pretty sure that many branches of government are not billed for their water use when water supply comes from a public agency. That's because accountants figure that it's not "efficient" to take a payment from one branch of government and give it to another (like shifting money around your pockets).

Of course, such a policy means that there's no incentive to conserve water.*

If, OTOH, the Department of Parks and Recreation had to pay for water as a line-item on its budget, it would pay a lot more attention to how much water (money) it was wasting. That's because more money for water means less money for donuts, staff retreats and other "morale boosters" that our public servants appear to need.

Bottom Line: A bureaucrat's world revolves around his budget. If you want him to do something, make it budget relevant. Bureaucrats will conserve water when it pays costs.
* The same is true about property taxes, auto registrations, and other government services that are consumed by other branches of government as well as the public. If it's "free," demand is greater!

1 comment:

  1. You have opinions. Do you have data, for instance line item budgets of all the departments in the city of Berkeley for the last five years?

    Some bureaucracies cross charge, DoD and DOE for example.

    The problem is not in the cross charging. More often the problem is that neither department is using real money. The cross charging is a bookkeeping entry not a real transaction so the entity charged cannot decreas its costs.

    Monopoly economics also comes into play often. In this example, the parks department is only allowed to buy water from the water department at whatever rate the water department charges. There is no outside bidding. There is no bidding at all.

    What substantive steps would you be willing to do yourself to change this situation?


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