Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

by / November 30, 1997 0
RESPONSE TO SPECIAL EDITION
"TECHNOLOGY AND GOVERNMENT: VISIONS FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM" SEPTEMBER 1997

To the Editor,
I've been a fan of this publication since I read my first issue (May 1997), which I picked up at the Government Technology conference in Sacramento. The interview with Jeremy Rifkin was riveting -- so much so that I bought his book The End of Work the same day and practically read it in one sitting.

Clay Jenkinson [Government Technology, Special Edition, September 1997] is a genius and his concept of Jefferson's views on information technology and its complete waste with regard to democracy was absolutely on the mark. Someone finally articulated my incredulity at the "people's apathy" to involve themselves in government in an age when it has become so easy. His characterization of Americans content to "entertain themselves with bread and circuses" echoes my own disgust with the Internet's being used primarily as a global pick-up bar and shopping mall. Equally agreeable were his comments on the Constitution, local governing and the Supreme Court. I never dreamed I'd be so happy to see someone else's words placed (as it were) in Mr. Jefferson's mouth.

Not only is the subject matter worthy, the layout and artwork are also tasteful and engaging. Congratulations on a truly noteworthy publication. I look forward to being enlightened by GT on a "sustained" basis.

Sincerely,

MJ Brooks
Contractor
State of California

To the Editor,
I have read the Government Technology special issue with interest. It wasn't long ago that information technology was in many respects a hands-on "blue collar" occupation. The manual nature of managing systems that relied on cardfiles, reel to reel magnetic tapes and heavy removable disk packs brought a generation of technicians into the information business. Like plumbers and other tradesmen, they were "fix it" guys, called only when the computer broke. This effort to raise the promise and potential of information technology to the level of Statesmen, Entrepreneurs, Scientists and true Professionals is something I applaud.

Todd Sander
Deputy Director
Department of Information Services
Olympia, Wash.

To the Editor,
The issue on Visions was outstanding. I especially enjoyed the Jefferson piece. The comments on modern problems were convincingly Jeffersonian. Please make this an annual feature.

Reginald Neale
Hazlow Electronics
Rochester N.Y.

To the Editor,
Your Special Issue is outstanding! As I read through it I kept thinking of people I know who would "resonate" to the ideas and articles you have published in that truly "special" issue. Any chance you have some extras, and that I could buy ...say...5 of them? (I am not going to give mine away, and if I share it, I'll never see it again.) Regardless of the answer, I sincerely thank you for publishing such a thought-provoking, refreshing, and enlightening collection of articles. Very fine work!! An award winner.

John Duddy
Consultant
Santa Fe, N.M.


PRIVATIZATION PRO AND CON
To the Editor,
Though I appreciate that Government Technology ran two informational features on privatization in its September [1997] issue, neither Lesley Kao nor any of the individuals in the panel discussion on this important topic imparted how pervasive the problems can be when government entities privatize services. The cautionary notes from panelists Babak Armajani and Michael Humphrey are certainly appropriate, but further warnings are in order.

Companies seeking government business are doing so to make a profit. There is of course nothing wrong with this unless that profit comes at the expense of the public interest, which happens all too often due to low ball bids, bid rigging or favoritism, lack of competition, cost overruns and poor service.

Many privatization advocates believe that the private sector is inherently more efficient than the public sector, but, as Mr. Armajani points out, that "is a dubious proposition." Though the public sector can benefit from private sector innovations, this does not mean that the private sector should take over a service, newly innovated or not. Those who claim that efficiency is increased when a service is privatized generally ignore the fact that labor costs are reduced mainly because employee wages and benefits are reduced. Moreover, given that most privatization efforts do not save money when all the transaction costs of privatizing a service are considered, such efficiency "improvements" essentially provide taxpayer-subsidized income transfers from employees to employers, as opposed to taxpayer savings.

Other major concerns include corruption and ethical lapses. For example, in a case that may have been the deciding factor in Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar's decision to not seek reelection, a federal grand jury recently convicted one of his biggest campaign contributors and a former state official of bribery that resulted in a state contract which bilked taxpayers out of $7 million. Time and again ardent privatization proponents have claimed that proper contract monitoring can prevent such problems, yet they continue to occur at an alarming rate. Ironically, in this era of "rightsizing" and "streamlining" government, monitoring and quality control efforts are often among the first services to be scaled back.

In a major privatization study released in September by the Economic Policy Institute, Columbia University Professor Elliott Sclar concluded that contracting will always have a role to play in government services, but due to the high transaction costs of contracting, "labor-management consultation could provide an economical shortcut. From this standpoint, it ought to be the option of first resort." Sclar's report adds to the preponderance of evidence which suggests that contracting out will not best serve the commonwealth or ameliorate shortcomings in the public sector. Government officials would be well advised to carefully consider this evidence before implementing privatization initiatives.

Kurt Schuparra
Research Analyst
Calif. State Employees' Association


To the Editor,
(Response from Gov. Edgar's office to the previous letter)

Mr. Schuparra's diatribe about privatization and a recent court case involving a contractor in Illinois is both convoluted and misleading.

First, selective privatization in Illinois has saved state taxpayers millions of dollars through the 1990s. Privatization to address specific program needs and cut the size of government has helped reduce the total state worker headcount by thousands since Gov. Jim Edgar took office in 1991. Illinoisans elected Jim Edgar in 1990, in part of his promise to reduce big government, streamline agencies and programs, and improve efficiency. He kept his promises, cut spending and righted a once dismal state fiscal house, without raising taxes. Voters re-elected him in 1994 by the largest plurality for any Illinois governor in this century.

The court case to which Mr. Schuparra refers was not about privatization. It was about bribery and fraud involving two middle-management state bureaucrats hired many years ago under a previous administration. One pled guilty and provided key testimony. The other, who had since gone to work for the contractor involved, was found guilty by a jury. Both had ignored longstanding Edgar administration rules against employees taking gifts of value from anyone seeking to do business with the state.

The dubious quality of Mr. Shuparra's research and analysis technique is most illuminated by his statement giving a federal grand jury credit for convicting the wrongdoers. Grand juries can do nothing of the sort, but such [unfounded] statements betray an analyst's penchant for allowing personal subjectivity [to] skew research and findings.

For his part, Gov. Edgar has said many times that the court case had nothing to do with his decision not to seek re-election in 1998. In fact, as even cursory research would reveal, the governor's staff triggered the state and federal investigations that led to the grand jury indictments and resulting convictions.

In addition, recent polls have shown that nearly two-thirds of Illinoisans approve of the governor's performance in office. The voice of the people tells the true story about how Jim Edgar's policies on privatization and cutting big government have benefited Illinois taxpayers. Others can only try to distort his many successes.

Thanks for letting us set the record straight.

John Webber
Assistant Press Secretary
Office of the Illinois Governor


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