A comparative study of contracting out by large, medium, and small municipalities in the United States

Srabanti Sarkar, Tennessee State University


The primary objective of this study was to analyze the current practices of contracting out in U.S. municipalities, primarily as a function of city size. The research also tried to identify the public services most likely to be contracted out by large, medium, and small-sized municipalities, their satisfaction with contracting out decisions, the types and effectiveness of monitoring functions, and the degree of usage of information technology in making contracting out decisions. For the purpose of this study, public services were broadly classified into the following five categories: Public Works and Transportation; Public Safety; Health and Human Services; Parks, Recreation, and Culture; Support Functions. The research employed a cross-sectional design, with the survey questionnaire as the primary instrument for data collection. Disproportionate stratified random sampling was employed in the selection of the sample frame. The survey questionnaire was addressed to the city manager, in whose absence the mayor or the chief financial officer was asked to fill out the survey. The questionnaire was mailed to 750 cities and a response rate of 35.2% was obtained (80 large cities, 77 medium cities, and 107 small cities). Descriptive statistics and measures of association were used in the analysis and the interpretation of data. Satisfaction indices of different services in the aforementioned five broad functional areas were constructed for contracted out public services. Data analysis revealed that the following public services are generally contracted out by U.S. municipalities: Solid waste collection and disposal, street repair, street lighting, vehicle towing, ambulance service, emergency medical, insect/rodent control, drug/alcohol treatment, family counseling, animal control/shelter, mental health, park/landscaping, legal services, and printing services. Statistically significant relationships at the 95% confidence level were obtained between city size and the following contracted out public services: Vehicle towing, animal control/shelter, recreation services, operation and maintenance of recreation facilities, park landscaping and maintenance, building security, legal services, personnel services, and printing services. The survey indicated that U.S. municipalities, irrespective of their size were generally satisfied with contracting out. Although the type and extent of monitoring functions differ between cities of different size, almost all U.S. municipalities employ some sort of oversight function. The degree of employment of several key monitoring techniques (direct monitoring, random monitoring, citizen survey) is a function of city size. The survey also revealed that nearly all U.S. municipalities have developed Web presence. These Web sites are used primarily for information dissemination, followed by citizen education, economic development, and service delivery functions. Qualitative and quantitative information gained from the study suggest that contracting out of certain public services by U.S. municipalities is influenced by city size.

Subject Area

Public administration

Recommended Citation

Srabanti Sarkar, "A comparative study of contracting out by large, medium, and small municipalities in the United States" (2002). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI3088284.