Privatizing Dinner in the Capitol
by reader sammy
Senate Votes To Privatize Its Failing Restaurants
From the Washington Post.
The embarrassment of the Senate food service struggling like some neighborhood pizza joint has quietly sparked change previously unthinkable for Democrats. Last week, in a late-night voice vote, the Senate agreed to privatize the operation of its food service, a decision that would, for the first time, put it under the control of a contractor and all but guarantee lower wages and benefits for the outfit’s new hires.
Year after year, decade upon decade, the U.S. Senate’s network of restaurants has lost staggering amounts of money — more than $18 million since 1993, according to one report, and an estimated $2 million this year alone, according to another.
The financial condition of the world’s most exclusive dining hall and its affiliated Capitol Hill restaurants, cafeterias and coffee shops has become so dire that, without a $250,000 subsidy from taxpayers, the Senate won’t make payroll next month.
In a letter to colleagues, (Diane) Feinstein said that the Government Accountability Office found that “financially breaking even has not been the objective of the current management due to an expectation that the restaurants will operate at a deficit annually.”
In a masterful bit of understatement, Feinstein blamed “noticeably subpar” food and service. Foot traffic bears that out. Come lunchtime, many Senate staffers trudge across the Capitol and down into the basement cafeteria on the House side. On Wednesdays, the lines can be 30 or 40 people long.
House staffers almost never cross the Capitol to eat in the Senate cafeterias….In the past 10 years, only 20 new items have been added to the Senate menus.
Even revenue in the once-profitable catering division has been decimated, as senators have increasingly sought waivers to bring in outside food for special events with constituents and private groups.
Experience with privatized food service
Operation of the House (of Representative) cafeterias was privatized in the 1980s by a Democratic-controlled Congress. Restaurant Associates of New York, the current House contractor, would take over the Senate facilities this fall. The company wins high praise from most staffers and lawmakers, who say they are pleased with the wide variety of new items offered every few months.
“Those who think the House and Senate don’t talk enough clearly haven’t been in the Longworth cafeteria on the House side at lunchtime recently. Senate staffers have been flocking there for better food, more options, and you get some exercise to boot,” said Brian Walsh, spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.),who frequently dines on the other side of the Capitol
Most important to Feinstein, Restaurant Associates turns a substantial profit — paying $1.2 million in commissions to the House since 2003. Company officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
The rules committee began exploring its outsourcing options in 2005, when Republicans controlled the chamber. When Democrats took power last year, Feinstein ordered several studies, including hiring a consultant to examine management practices, before deciding privatization was the only possibility.
As a microcosm:- private vs. public sector, profit motive and performance, profit vs. labor costs, it should make you go “hmmmmmm.”
This one by sammy