From 1976 until 2004 I either dabbled in or participated in libertarianism, as a viable philosophy, and Libertarianism as a political party. I voted for many Libertarian candidates, spoke and wrote in favor of libertarian ideals, and pretty much believed that within those ideals we could rescue a society and the economic engine that feeds that society.
I first began to waiver from the party line when they came out in favor of NAFTA. The party saw it as consistent with philosophical concepts in that it took down barriers that kept government in charge of something best left to the private sector. I differed by arguing that this was one place where government could indeed do more good for the citizens than could the private sector. I recognized that the private sector would be driven by greed, and that protective barriers would be artificially abrogated for the reasons of that greed.
American workers would suffer disproportionately due to the fact that they were at the higher end of the pay and benefit scales. I knew that the lure of lower wages, lower standards of safety and environmental concerns, and other factors would push more jobs away from the U.S. than it would ever lure to our country. Free trade would not be free, nor would it be fair.
Such has been the case. New American jobs are not being created, old American jobs are now off-shored, and whole industries, once vibrant in the U.S., no longer exist here. What was good for China and Mexico gutted out good paying jobs in this country. We no longer make televisions, shoes, and thousands of other products here.
By the 2004 election, with the country up to its neck in an illegal war, with the Constitution being subverted in the name of “national security”, and the astounding outflow of our nation’s wealth while being led by a party who professed belief in freedom and free markets, I could no longer allow myself the luxury of libertarianism. I had to come to grips that in the name of that philosophy, the rich were getting too rich, the poor were being further disenfranchised, and the middle class was disappearing.
I came to understand at this late stage in my life that the government, properly aligned, properly mindful of the needs for fairness in our society, and properly regulated by a watchful electorate, was the only way to assure the liberty we as Americans stood for. We needed a government that existed only to serve the people, particularly those who needed help the most. The poor, disadvantaged, under employed, and ultimately, all of us. Government alone can assure a level playing field, not that governments always do so. That’s where the watchful electorate comes in. The government will only serve the people if the people demand that government is transparent, and that this transparency translates into regulating those things to which we all need access, and for which we pay, based on fairness, not on who has the most money.
Having laid out that long-winded backstory, I now get to the meat of the matter. Indiana, with Mitch Daniels as governor, has moved into areas of privatization of government services which I once would have applauded, but which I now recognize do not best serve the public. In fact, these moves into privatization only enrich those people and corporations supplying these services, and with way too little government oversight.
These privatized services include the Indiana Toll Road, an integral infrastructure that serves the people, not only of Indiana, but much of the east-west commerce of the nation. We see a marked deterioration of the quality of the road, increased tolls, and a frightening drop in safety as the foreign consortium that is running the road struggles financially. When private business loses money they can only return to profitability by increasing prices or decreasing expenditures. Many times it requires both, and the Toll Road is an example of this.
Another area of privatization is the Indiana prison system. A prison facility in New Castle was turned over to a private firm by the State of Indiana, in an effort to reduce the cost of the state running the facility. The private contractor, GEO, in an effort to fill it, and thereby maximize their profits, began importing prisoners from other states, mainly Arizona. When they had increased their population, for which they received additional funding, they set about keeping costs to a minimum. They did so by hiring too few staff members, paying them too little to stop a attrition rate, and by not maintaining the facility in a safe manner.
A riot took place at the Greencastle facility in 2007, largely spurred by the Arizona inmates. The riot was fed by prisoner dissatisfaction with inadequate food, activities, etc., and made possible by inattention by the operators of this prison to these facts. The riot was the direct result of this company watching their bottom line with more zeal than they did the proper running of the prison.
A study following the riot found that the facility was woefully understaffed, and the staff they had was “unseasoned and ill-trained,” according to a Department of Corrections investigation. This study also found that the prison lacked reasonable communication lines between the staff and the administration, inadequate emergency plans, and doors and windows of insufficient strength and design to contain the offenders in their housing units.
This is the face of privatized government services. It’s about the bottom line, not about providing the necessary service for which the citizens pay their tax dollars.
Now I have in front of me a transcript from a June 12, 2009 news report on WRTV in Indianapolis. This TV report highlighted problems at Family Social Services Administration for the State of Indiana. Mitch Daniels oversaw the takeover of FSSA by by IBM with a long-term contract for a billion dollar system to “streamline” Indiana’s welfare system. In other words, a privatization of the access to, and implementation of, these services.
The report by WRTV found that the statewide call center, set up by an IBM subcontractor, ACS, to help Hoosiers down on their luck, is drawing fire from employees who work there. Workers say the state is making promises they can’t keep. Some workers told the reporter that they’re being dismissed from the job for veering off the FSSA script, supplied to them by ACS.
The agency provides food stamps, cash assistance and Medicaid for the neediest Hoosiers. But now upset workers are speaking out about internal policies that require them to give callers one of a number of scripted lines. Lines they say are helpless and in some cases misleading.
One former employee said, “I was told to tell people that their benefits would be authorized there in 48 hours and they weren’t.” It’s a story other current and former employees back up. “We were told to lie,” said Gregory Guy, a former Tier 2 coach at the center.
Guy was dismissed as a supervisor for veering off script with an irate client. He himself had written up employees for failing to follow nearly 200 scripted responses.
Employees are told exactly what to say on everything from the status of a case, to a call from the governor’s office, to a bomb threat.
Nearly a half dozen employees told WRTV that they were instructed in January to tell a backlog of clients they would receive their benefits within two business days, a 48-hour turnaround.
“90 percent of the calls that came in that day were calling in 48 hours later asking where their benefits were,” added another worker who wanted to keep her identity concealed out of fear of retaliation.
“A lot of people were questioning it, but you had no choice,” said Guy, explaining the possible repercussions. “You could get wrote up, you could get dismissed from the project. So you did what you were told to do.”
The job, to meet the bottom line, is best accomplished by ACS if they deny claims to as many applicants as they can, since benefits paid come right out of IBM and ACS potential profits. It should be noted that current FSSA chief, Mitch Roob, is a former employee of ACS, hired to head up FSSA shortly before ACS was awarded the subcontract.
This story again goes to show you that not every government service should be privatized, and that giving contractors long term contracts amounts to bestowing on private business a government-established monopoly insulated from market forces – the very opposite of the goal of privatization. At the very least, government officials need to be diligent to ensure the vendor complies with the contract, and the legitimate needs of those served by the contract. Fortunately, here we have the media overlooking the shoulder of the contractor, ACS. With regard to thousands of other government contracts, there is little in the way of oversight when it comes to compliance.
In my opinion, the Federal Courthouse in Indianapolis is not big enough for all the indictments that need to happened, not just in the FSSA fiasco, but the whole smarmy privatization stampede. The ethics trampled on and laws broken to gain for a few in political circles continues to burn deeper scars into good people who need help, or want the services for which and the rest of us pay. Indiana politicians, and some people entrusted to uphold the laws, might be able to do community work release at the new Indianapolis Casino when they get convicted. One could only hope