Big weapons commanded the big letters in the headlines relaying the policy shift in the Pentagon.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates would de-emphasize outer-space missile defense in favor of defenses on terra firma. He’d emphasize smaller ships over big ones. He would phase out the F-22 fighter and cancel a $13 billion splurge for a new class of presidential/vice presidential helicopters.
As significant as the announcement was, a matter just as weighty was buried in the coverage or hardly even reported. Bulletin: Our government has fallen out of love with big-ticket private contractors.
At the same time, it has come to appreciate again what civil servants do.
Within reforms of a procurement process under which weapons prices have shot into the stratosphere, Gates will hire “tens of thousands of civil servants to do the work,” reports The New York Times, “since contracting that out to the private sector has not proven efficient.”
You mean, “contracting out” isn’t necessarily the best way to meet the needs of the military and taxpayers? You mean we’d rely again on “bureaucrats” whose only interest is the public interest?
What? A motive other than profit?
This does not compute within the robot-like march over eight years to privatize everything our government does.
Let’s say the robot did a heckuva job.
Months before Hurricane Katrina, FEMA hired a Florida firm to coordinate evacuations after hurricanes. It subcontracted and subcontracted.
You know the drill.
Post-Katrina, an investigation found that the subcontracting chain popped a sprocket, or maybe its commandants were on the golf course. The American Bus Association had an armada of buses ready to stream to the gulf. They never left the lot.
In Iraq, contracted security firm Blackwater USA really showed us what you can get away with if you aren’t tied down to impediments like public accountability and/or scruples.
Blackwater did its job so well that it had to change its name, to Xe. A practice pioneered by renamed tobacco giant Phillip Morris (now Altria), it’s a corporate version of the witness relocation program.
You see, corporations can morph and merge and divest and rebrand and relocate.
Our government, however, remains, well, ours.
Lone Star debacle
One of the too lightly reported stories in Texas is the debacle of privatizing of human services dating back to the 2003 Republican takeover of the Legislature.
A host of privatization initiatives either fizzled or blew up in policymakers’ faces. The most prominent was the attempt to contract out enrollment and access to a host of human services including food stamps and Medicaid. Not only did Texas end up offering jobs back to great numbers of “bureaucrats” Gov. Rick Perry said we’d not need, but, with Texas’ experience as inspiration, the U.S. Senate passed a bill (ultimately watered down) that would have barred privatizing food stamp programs.
Privatized schemes that didn’t provide better services were part of the abomination. Another was the obscene sums made by contractors and middle men. In 2003 when Texas was dropping thousands of children from the Children’s Health Insurance Program in the supposed name of austerity, an auditor found that the state overpaid a vendor $20 million to administer the program, including millions for individual consultants.
This brings us back to those much-reviled figures: civil servants. You know, like soldiers, and engineers, and public health workers. Oh, and teachers.
Who needs ’em? Can’t a machine do what they do? Can’t we devise one that does government? A drone craft, say, that Westinghouse or GE or Lockheed can build and operate?
I’ll bet they’d say they could. For a price.
John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald.