1. Forest service drops plan to pull employees out of forests
The U.S. Forest Service has abandoned a restructuring of its environmental planning that would have pulled its biologists and other specialists out of national forests, according to an internal agency memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEE, and reported by ENS. Under the plan, thousands of employees posted to forests across the country would have been reassigned and consolidated into six centers, affecting more than a quarter of the agency’s entire workforce. This retreat follows a series of recent setbacks in efforts to privatize large portions of Forest Service operations. With less than one year left in the Bush administration, it is unlikely that the plan will be revisited anytime soon, said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization had first revealed the agency’s intentions.
2. Blackwater and company
Robert O’Harrow Jr. writes in the Washington Post’s Government Inc. blog: "Congress took yet another look yesterday at one of the most compelling themes of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: the use of Blackwater and other private security contractors, or PSCs. This time it was the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee doing the looking. "An Uneasy Relationship: U.S. Reliance on Private Security Firms in Overseas Operations," was the formal title of the session."
3. Obama’s Blackwater problem
Jeremy Scahill writes in Huffington Post that: "A senior foreign policy adviser to leading Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told me that if elected Obama will not "rule out" using private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq. The adviser also said that Obama does not plan to sign on to legislation that seeks to ban the use of these forces in US war zones by January 2009, when a new President will be sworn in. Obama’s campaign says that instead he will focus on bringing accountability to these forces while increasing funding for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the agency that employs Blackwater and other private security contractors."
4. WV: Private-public roads funding bill sent on
Legislation allowing highways to be built with private and public funds – and possibly charge tolls – was approved Wednesday by the state West Virginia House of Delegates, reports the Charleston Gazette. The proposal would allow public-private deals for future construction projects. As compensation, the private partners could collect tolls or user fees – and mine coal or obtain other natural resources on the sites. Critics said it could hurt business in such areas as the Eastern Panhandle. Delegate Robert Tabb, D-Jefferson, said residents of neighboring Virginia and Maryland would avoid West Virginia and the tolls, and that would hurt businesses in the region.
Highway Public-Private Partnerships: More Rigorous Up-front Analysis Could Better Secure Potential Benefits and Protect the Public Interest, GAO-08-44, February, 2008. Highway public-private partnerships show promise as a viable alternative, where appropriate, to help meet growing and costly transportation demands. The public sector can acquire new infrastructure or extract value from existing infrastructure while potentially sharing with the private sector the risks associated with designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining public infrastructure. However, highway public-private partnerships are not a panacea for meeting all transportation system demands, nor are they without potentially substantial costs and risks to the public–both financial and nonfinancial–and trade-offs must be made…..There is no "free" money in highway public-private partnerships.
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