2012 CAR conference blog

The story behind failing government monopolies

By Jon McClure
@JonRMcClure

Paul Overberg of USA Today and Brad Guilmino of HNTB Corporation discussed the potential stories coming from the decline of two long-monopolized government services: road maintenance and mail delivery.

Though they may seem like monolithic enterprises, in actuality there are lots of competing stakeholders. In many cases, these systems represent microcosms of dysfunction in the role and scope of government, said Overberg. 

Guilmino spoke at length about the revenue problems plaguing road and bridge maintenance projects across the country. Many states have turned to tolling networks as a way to supplement their revenue stream, and in many cases these projects mean new road construction underwritten through public-private partnerships.

The bulk of questions and discussion then centered on the merits of the public-private partnership model and how journalists can evaluate the fiscal efficacy of these projects.

In covering proposals, journalists should understand concepts that affect project goals, like revenue leakage between different tolling system models, said Overberg. Guilmino also recommended journalists review RFPs for roadwork projects and search the investor relations portion of state websites for project updates. Also check out MSRB’s Electronic Municipal Market Access website.

Overberg then spoke on the drastic cuts facing the United States Postal Service. Reeling from $25 billion in losses over the last five years, USPS is facing a 30% reduction in staff by 2016. Many postal offices are also facing closure, which is an incredibly lengthy and legalistic process ripe for coverage, Overberg said.

What may be most interesting, though, is what alternatives arise to fill service gaps left by USPS’s slow retreat from the market.

Overberg provided a tip sheet, which will be available on IRE's website, with many online resources for journalists looking to cover USPS stories. He can be reached at poverberg@usatoday.com.

Jon McClure is a graduate student at the University of Missouri's School of Journalism.

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