Privatization, a Proven Loser

March 12, 2007 by susan

by susan
The mess at Walter Reed Hospital, coming on top of the twin quagmires of New Orleans and Iraq, brings to mind Ronald Reagan's oft-quoted quip that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." The so-called conservatives, those in power who have brought this nation to its knees, still seem to think this is a great laugh line, right up there with Ann Coulter's homophobic slam- dunk of John Edwards.

What these ideologues would have us believe is that the government is nothing more than a bunch of bungling bureaucrats, eager to interfere in your business (that's bidness, as the late Molly Ivins would say, as in energy, lumber, insurance, pharmaceuticals, etc.) and that the solution is privatize, privatize, privatize.

Everyone knows that the government can bloat up faster than a dead carp on a hot beach, and there's a reason people resent its regulations and cumbersome red tape. But a big country requires something big to keep it all humming along, whether it's big government or big business -- or maybe big religion, which the Constitution prohibits. (But that's little deterrent with the Gonzales gang.)

This administration has chosen the bidness model as a way to shrink government and strip out the fat. (And if you're not laughing you're not paying attention.) It's true that if you wring the profits out of the hides of your workers you can run your company on the cheap -- until catastrophe strikes and you have only a skeletal work force of untrained low-paid workers. Think Jet Blue sitting on the tarmac. Think Katrina, and Walter Reed. And Iraq.

The underlying premise in the business model is that competition will keep costs down. But this administration and its Congressional FOB's (Friends of Bidness) have eliminated most of the competition, citing expediency in the face of crisis. They've doled out billion dollar no-bid contracts to their cronies, with little, if any, government oversight, resulting in over-charging, fraud and enormous boondoggles, like the post-Katrina ice-trucks idling in parking lots, not far from the molding trailers in Hope, Arkansas.

In keeping with their scorn for government, the Bushies have appointed under-qualified third stringers to key roles, like Heckuva-Job-Brownie at FEMA, and former chair of the RNC and Ambassador to the Vatican, Jim Nicholson, as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Although they both start with V, looking out for the Vatican does not qualify you to look out for our veterans.

So it's no surprise that part of the meltdown at Walter Reed can be attributed to outsourcing of jobs to private contractors, and that one of the contractors is Florida-based IAP Worldwide Services, headed by former Halliburton executive Al Neffgen. Neffgen was previously employed as the chief operating officer for KBR Government Operations, the subsidiary of Halliburton that handled the company's military contracts in Iraq as well as the ice trucks to nowhere.

After IAP took over at Walter Reed, the number of federal employees dropped from 300 to 60, and Neffgen eventually replaced those 60 workers with 50 IAP Worldwide workers. A September 2006 memo, signed by a deputy to the medical center's commander, described concerns about the loss of "highly skilled and experienced personnel" at Walter Reed and the center's increased workload. But until the WaPo got on it, no one paid no nevermind.

At least the Jet Blue passengers got an apology from their CEO for the time they lost on the tarmac or camped out in airports due to the mismanagement of the company. But those who have lost their homes, their limbs, or their lives, due to the mismanagement of this country, are still waiting.

After dealing with the dead-end frustration of companies like IAP, those nine words, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help," would probably sound mighty sweet to the survivors of Katrina and the wounded veterans of this senseless war.

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Barbara replies (not verified) | March 12, 2007 - 7:57am

When the house of cards at Enron came tumbling down, there was a huge, loud outcry: "Where was the board of directors?" And so I ask the same question about the U.S.'s dangerous CEO and cohorts. Where is the board of directors? That would be Congress and the rest of us are, in a manner of speaking, the shareholders.

It is unacceptable to provide Governance by Ooops (GOP). As in, "Ooops, we didn't know. We were deceived. We'd have done something if we'd known."

By the way, Governance by Ooops is not just about Republics. It's also about spineless Dems, asleep at the wheel. Women and men whose two-year terms in the House are spent first recovering from the past election and then preparing for the next. But that's another story for another time. The Senate has no excuses whatsoever.

The U.S. board of directors has failed the American people. It allowed Junior and the Rogues to make off with the Constitution, holding it hostage and using it the same way the theocons use the Bible -- cherry-picking what seems to support their POV and ignoring the rest.

Jury's still out on the "new" board. But stakeholders would be well advised to hold their individual and collective feet to the fire, all day, every day. We didn't give them a free pass. The rest of Junior's term (which, in a system that's working, would end today) requires constant vigilance and more than that, action, action, action.


Anonymous (not verified) | March 12, 2007 - 4:23pm

Amen. The Republicans want government off our backs - until they want it on our backs.

The following small but easily grasped event took place just after the Gingrich revolution of 1994. Speaker Gingrich, newly elected Gov. of NY Pataki, and Senator Alphonse D'Amato among others, spent their first months in office incessantly preaching "state and locals do it best...." and claiming that if the federal government would just get out of the way, "voluteers" could get back to doing the work they always do so well, and with such pride and committment.

And then in the summer of '95, the wildlands of Long Island caught fire, and despite the efforts of local and volunteer fire departments working day and night, the fires continued out of control. Eastern Long Island is still largely rural, sprinkled with a winery or two, and some fast vanishing family farms, and, importantly, some multi million dollar homes, mostly weekend homes for wealthy Manhattanites. When the fires moved nearer to the "private homes" it was time to get serious about fire fighting. Feds to the rescue.

Governor George Pataki and Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato held a press conference announcing that the U.S. Forest Service would be sending C-130 aerial tankers capable of dropping 3,000 gallons of fire retardant.

When the planes did not show up immediately, the politicians went back on television to criticize the federal response. Area Congressman Michael P. Forbes sent a letter to President Clinton demanding an investigation into what he called the "C-130 fiasco," and the White House instructed federal officials on the scene to respond to local demands. The planes were sent.

I've refreshed my memory with a little googling here, but I do vividly remember almost driving of the road in shock when I heard Gov. Pataki on the radio whining that the "federal government had planes just sitting out in Wyoming that could have these fires out in no time; our local and volunteer fire departments are doing their best but it just isn't effective, and besides, they're exhausted. "

"State, local, and volunteerism" have morphed into "privatizing" and "faith bases" as Republican solutions, but when expedience is needed, the current Republican leaders are pretty happy to help themselves to the powers of the federal government.
And so am I. I'll soon be receiving my monthly social security check. Yes, that's the federal government, and I'll take it any time. It's those faith based church folk offering to help that scare me.