Monday, February 05, 2007

The Patronage Plan

Webster's Ninth New Collegiate has this to say about patronage: 5 a: the power to make appointments to government jobs esp. for political advantage.

Through the centuries patronage has been one of the banes of governmental efficiency, people got jobs they weren't up to or ran the jobs to benefit their benefactor rather than the citizenry. It is a practice that stretches back to time immemorial though some examples are fairly recent and instructive. The Boss Tweed administration of New York stands out on the scale of corruption, though Chicago and St Louis were right in the running. The institution of Civil Service Boards and Administrations was designed to relegate patronage to the dust bin of history, though it left plenty of nooks and crannies for political rewards in Agency heads, Ambassadorships, and other appointments. One of the great achievements of civil service was that the "troops" were competent enough and merit responsible enough to keep egregious failures as chief from doing great harm. Things have changed.

The The NY Times has an article about contractors which you may find frightening in the extent and breath of US governmental contracting outsourcing. The GSA hired a contractor to process claims of ...(wait for it)... government contractor fraud and abuse. The GSA had to do the hiring because allegations of abuse outstripped its ability to process claims, that means - a lot of claims. From 2000 through 2006 the federal spending on contractors went from $207 billion to $400 billion, yes that's billion with a "B." If there are 300 million Americans, that's $1,000 per man, woman, and child in the country for contractors. Do you feel like you've gotten your money's worth?

Now Republican philosophy of government (less) and free market (for the rich folk) is supposed to accomplish a few things through certain means. Competition is supposed to reduce cost and improve service - 48% of contracts are competitive. Supervision of contracts has gone down, the number of supervisors has remained static while spending has skyrocketed. With reduced supervision getting contracts has less to do with competence and pricing and more to do with contacts and ability to game the contracting process. You cannot have competition in an arena where actions are hidden, companies are not subject to the FOIA and can bury their actions under layers and layers of subcontractors.

To understand the level of contractor spending, Lockheed Martin gets more money than the Dept of Justice or Energy while spending $53 million on lobbying and $6 million on donations. The top 20 service contractors since 2000 spent $300 million on lobbying and $23 million on political campaigns. Some of these businesses get 90-95% of their income from government contracting, they are no longer businesses but pseudo agencies.

I may be just a small time construction contractor from NE OR, but I can see a lot of money and a lot of opportunities for corruption. Not just in contract failures but throughout the entire system, through the agencies, their political appointees, and their elected "masters" in the White House. It bears remembering that Cheney's actions as CEO of Halliburton took it from one of the most profitable companies in its industry to one facing bankruptcy. BushCo indeed.

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