LANSING —Proving that not every innovation is guaranteed to work, the state’s attempt at privatizing its campground reservation system is awash in problems and controversy.

A three-year, $3.4 million contract with DPCS International, Inc., of Livonia privatized the reservation system and the distribution of travel brochures in December 1994. As revealed by journalist Rick Haglund in the Bay City Times and other newspapers in the state on January 12, troubles have plagued the deal since the beginning. Hundreds of campers have complained of "repeated busy signals, rude operators, unreasonable hold times and disconnected calls when trying to reserve campsites," says Haglund.

Charges have gone back and forth, with state officials blaming the company for miscalculating its capabilities and the company president accusing the state of, among other things, "saddling him with bug-filled software." Initially, privatization seemed to work well, and the company was even recognized two years ago for its "cutting-edge technology." DPCS, noted the Haglund article, did increase state park reservations by 50% over two years. A $500,000 settlement reached between the parties ended the dispute by phasing out the company.

This episode is likely to generate a discussion about the proper way to privatize and to monitor the performance of both the state and private contractors. One state representative, Bill Bobier of Hesperia, says Michigan needs an independent agency to monitor contracts.