Pigs at the Public Trough


Does anyone remember the days when “libertarians” spent their time arguing the merits of government contracting? That it would be more efficient, cheaper, and provide “better service” to have “private contractors” do the same jobs that “civil servants” are currently paid to do? (Maybe there are “libertarians” who still passionately argue these points, I don’t know.)

The Sunday New York Times ran a lengthy story that ought to put paid to any notion that “private firms” contracting with the government can do government’s work cheaper, better and faster:

Without a public debate or formal policy decision, contractors have become a virtual fourth branch of government. On the rise for decades, spending on federal contracts has soared during the Bush administration, to about $400 billion last year from $207 billion in 2000, fueled by the war in Iraq, domestic security and Hurricane Katrina, but also by a philosophy that encourages outsourcing almost everything government does.

Contractors still build ships and satellites, but they also collect income taxes and work up agency budgets, fly pilotless spy aircraft and take the minutes at policy meetings on the war. They sit next to federal employees at nearly every agency; far more people work under contracts than are directly employed by the government. Even the government’s online database for tracking contracts, the Federal Procurement Data System, has been outsourced (and is famously difficult to use).

And there’s this, in reference to a CACI contract that hired six people to review other pending federal government contracts:

The price of $104 an hour — well over $200,000 per person annually — was roughly double the cost of pay and benefits of a comparable federal worker, said [Scott Amey of the Project on Government Oversight].

And then there’s this description of the explosion of contracting:

But the recent contracting boom had its origins in the "reinventing government" effort of the Clinton administration, which slashed the federal work force to the lowest level since 1960 and streamlined outsourcing. Limits on what is "inherently governmental" and therefore off-limits to contractors have grown fuzzy, as the General Services Administration’s use of CACI International personnel shows.

Oh, and there’s this, which is absolutely precious:

"This is the new face of government," [said Stan] Soloway [president of the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Virginia-based group which lobbies on behalf of government contractors.] "This isn’t companies gouging the government. This is the marketplace."

No, Stan, it isn’t. There is no “marketplace” for government services because there is no marketplace for government. The state maintains a legal monopoly on force and the provision of whatever “services” it decides only it can provide. It doesn’t make any difference if civil servants or “private” contractors do that work if government gives itself the legal monopoly on “service” provision. Monopoly, and only monopoly, is the problem.

There is no virtue in reducing the number of civil servants — government workers — if the role, function and jobs of government are not only not reduced, but actually expanded. Which is what has happened in the Clinton and Bush Jong Il years. Contracting also creates whole “businesses” completely dependent on taxpayer dollars — legal theft and lawful coercion — businesses that then specialize not in the making and selling of products, but in lobbying legislators for ever more business. Businesses that specialize in taking from you and me. According to the New York Times piece, Lockheed Martin is the biggest federal contractor, making more from contracts than the federal budget allocates to either the Departments of Justice or Energy. Can any of us walk into a Wal-Mart and buy something — anything — made by Lockheed Martin? Would we even want to?

Then why must we be forced to buy “services” from Lockheed Martin?

The only way to reduce the costs of government is to reduce government. And the only way to do that is to end the state’s monopoly. On everything.

Charles H. Featherstone [send him mail] is a seminarian and freelance editor living in Chicago. Visit his blog.