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Privatizing Everything

Whenever Frank Anderson speaks the way he did at a recent public forum in Washington, D.C. about “essential state functions performed by businesses,” people better listen. Mr. Anderson is the president of the Middle East Policy Council, but previously he was the chief of the Near East and South Asia Division of the CIA. A discussion-relayed over C-Span-featuring Mr. Anderson, was among established scholars and policy wonks focused on national security in that tumultuous area of the world. Mr. Anderson was asked about Blackwater, the controversial corporation whose profits come from Pentagon and State Department contracts to provide security to U.S. government personnel in west and central Asia and to perform such secret operations that it could have an identity crisis with the CIA.

Blackwater has gotten in trouble for shooting up Iraqi civilians in unprovoked situations. The corporation’s operatives are involved in sensitive missions, such as the recent double-agent suicide explosion in Afghanistan. Again and again, the line between corporate and governmental functions is not only blurred, it has ceased to exist.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL.) called Blackwater a “repeat offender endangering our mission repeatedly, endangering the lives of our military and costing the lives of innocent civilians.” She asked why Blackwater is employed anywhere by the U.S. government.

Outsourcing national security activities, right down to interviewing job applicants for intelligence agencies, is troubling many retired and active members of the national defense and security agencies. Yet corporate contracting, launched big time by Ronald Reagan, seems unstoppable. There are more contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan than there are U.S. soldiers. Over two hundred thousand of them and counting.

The rationale for these contracts is (1) greater efficiency, (2) greater talent and (3) more flexible personnel in and out whenever they are needed.

First, throw out the tax dollar savings argument. Mr. Anderson estimates that the costs are two to three times more when corporations do the work. Other estimates are higher, even when non-deliveries, contaminated food and drinking water, embezzlements and fraud that keep Pentagon auditors awake at night, are not included.

Government acquisition specialists accuse politicians of creating layers and layers of contractors with their massive, convoluted contracts dissipating accountabilities. It is a Kafkaesque nightmare of corporate statism. Of course, all this has led to a government brain and skill drain over to the corporate sector which pays so much more than government. A vicious cycle of incapacity and hollowing out sets in and allows the governmental departments to rationalize more outsourcing.

“No way that we should have allowed businessmen to perform essential state functions,” said Mr. Anderson, especially, he added, in the areas of “intelligence and the application of violence.”

At the same forum, Bruce Riefel, senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and former CIA officer and specialist in Middle East Affairs, agreed with Mr. Anderson, bemoaning more and more layers of reviews and contracts.

Messrs Anderson and Riedel are not loners. Their views often reflect a larger circle of governmental professionals who have seen the wholesale stampede of contracting out government from DOD, CIA, AID, and NASA. The Congress is sort of looking into this mindlessness that is swelling deficits and escaping standards of public service and ethics. The prospects for change? Mr. Anderson said “fixing this would require revolutionary changes.” That objective can only come from the proverbial people-aroused and determined. If that does not happen, what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called fascism in 1938-that is corporate control of government-will tighten its very costly grip.

The corporate government mentality is not restricted to Washington, D.C. State governments are also outsourcing with similar though lesser waste, fraud and escape from accountabilities.

Just last week, Virginia’s incoming governor, Robert F. McDonnell, announced that he will let his Cabinet secretaries have dual allegiances by serving on commercial corporate boards of directors. Virginia is one of the states that permits this in-built conflict of interest between duty to the citizens and loyalty to specific corporate profit.

So his new Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Robert Sledd, will continue to sit on three corporate boards. In his day job, Sledd is responsible for 13 agencies that regulate business policy, according to the Washington Post. On the side, he sits on the board of a tobacco company and a medical supplies business.

Down in Arizona, a new slide toward the pits is about to occur. Beset with a large state deficit, the state officials and their Governor refuse to end corporate welfare and corporate tax abatements and subsidies. Instead, get this, they have put “for sale” signs on Arizona’s state buildings hoping to realize $735 million and then start paying the buyers rent!! (Breaking News–they’ve got a sale!)

Also up for sale, among other structures, go the legislative buildings, the Department of Public Safety, the prisons and the state Coliseum. Organizational psychiatrists and efficiency economists, please help us understand.

Wouldn’t it have been better for the state legislators to just sell the back of their jackets to corporate advertisers? Then at least, there would be truth in advertising!

For a regular stream of news about privatization visit: privatizationwatch.org

RALPH NADER is the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel.

 

 

 

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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