October 10, 2012


Transparency Outsourced as U.S. Hires Vendors for FOIA

At least 25 federal agencies are outsourcing parts of the FOIA process. The contractors, sometimes using workers with security clearances, are building FOIA software, corresponding with requesters, redacting documents and recommending what information should be withheld…. “I’m very troubled by this example of offloading responsibility,” said Paul Light, a public service professor at New York University. “Once you put this in the hands of the contractors, you lose a degree of control in terms of goals like open government. That’s the real downside of it.” Bloomberg

Revisiting Privatization in Intercity Rail

Smith suggests that with privatization, Amtrak could radically improve its efficiency. The biggest problems with the rail agency, he argues, are related to low worker productivity. Despite Amtrak’s privately motivated interests that I pointed out above, much of its labor rules remain affected by politics and can be altered by Congressional action. Are we willing to accept reducing the influence of democratic actors in agency decision-making? It would mean restructuring labor agreements — reducing the income and health benefits that unions have fought for decades to acquire — and firing huge numbers of workers (a third in the case of JNR’s privatization). If privatization slashes the number of workers needed to do the same job, rail in the U.S. could indeed become profitable, since most of Amtrak’s costs are labor related. For the transportation public, that could produce cheaper ticket prices and fewer subsidies. But it means, fundamentally, that we are bringing private companies in to do the dirty work that the government is politically incapable of doing.   The Transport Politic

OH: Jobs Ohio: Behind the Curtain  – editorial

Mark Kvamme will step down this month as JobsOhio’s president and interim chief investment officer. Governor Kasich hired him in 2011 to privatize Ohio’s economic-development efforts. The former California venture capitalist has not disclosed why he’s leaving. That’s hardly a surprise, given the cloud that obscures public scrutiny of most of the inner workings of the agency. The lack of transparency that surrounds the job-creation agency remains troubling. While it waits for the liquor money, JobsOhio is funded in part by secret corporate donors. Ohioans have no way of knowing what influence or favors those donations might buy. When JobsOhio gains control of liquor profits, the money — and how it’s spent — will be removed from public view. The agency doesn’t have to share how it determines how much of a return on investment is enough. That, it says, is a trade secret. Even Republican lawmakers question the agency’s focus on short-term gains. Toledo Blade

NY: Charter pre-school coming our way

Two weeks ago, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced that Educare would be coming to Brooklyn next fall. A birth-to-five program that serves at-risk kids, it’s become the darling of politicos from Obama on down, not to mention billionaire philanthropist George Kaiser, who’s funneled millions into Tulsa’s three Educares, as well as a growing number of schools around the country…Standards, accountability, privatization. Sound familiar? The Head Start community is sweating this big-time, worried about the siphoning off of public funds to create a new “charter preschool movement.” But what about the children? What about equity? How level is their playing field? These are tough questions, especially for those of us who believe that early care and education must be a public good, one that should have robust government support. Huffington Post

NY: Madison County seeks to outsource mental health outpatient services

A near-unanimous decision Tuesday by the Madison County Board of Supervisors will move forward the outsourcing of the ADAPT program. All but Smithfield Supervisor Rick Bargabos voted in favor for privatizing the outpatient substance abuse and mental illness evaluation and treatment program. The program, which is not mandated by the state, has run at a deficit in recent years by as much as $89,174 and as little as $10,906. The move to privatize follows a trend the county created last year with the outsourcing of its home health care and long-term home health care agency. Oneida Dispatch