The Wall Street Journal has an opinion by Thomas Frank on the topic of spending by Republicans. In other articles he is very hard on the stupidity of Democratic campaigns and culture war tactics…which so far has been won by this current group of Republicans.
One fact about government outsourcing is settled: It sure doesn’t save money. A Washington Post reporter who scrutinized Katrina reconstruction contracts in 2006 found that “the difference between the job’s actual price and the fee charged to taxpayers ranged from 40 percent to as high as 1,700 percent.” To cover damaged roofs with tarps, certain contractors billed the government $1.50 per square foot of roof covered; some of the people who actually did the work got under 10 cents per square foot. Guess who kept the difference.
Privatization also constitutes a fundamental change in the constituency to which government answers. Journalist Tim Weiner estimates that, by 2006, about half of the people working for the CIA in Iraq and the National Counterterrorism Center were contractors, former CIA personnel accountable not to the American public but to their employers. “The spectacle of jumping ship in the middle of a war to make a killing was unremarkable in twenty-first century Washington,” he writes in his book, “Legacy of Ashes.” Among the CIA’s new hires, he reported, the saying is, “Get in, get out, get paid.”
The days when conservatives railed against red tape and shrieked for efficiency in Washington now seem like a lifetime ago. When they finally got the opportunity to put their theory into practice, conservatives contrived instead one of the most wasteful systems ever seen.
It is time for a new Grace Commission, this one examining the sordid history of privatization in all its details. President Barack Obama should launch it on day one.
Write to Thomas@wsj.com