The Bush administrations plan to privatize half of the federal work force is an attack on the very essence of the federal government: It replaces the notion of public service for the common good with the profit motive. By turning over 850,000 civil-service jobs to private contractors, the Bush initiative -- which requires no congressional approval -- will destroy the firewall protecting federal jobs from political influence, taking the U.S. government back to the 19th century and the everything-for-sale days of, for example, the administration of Ulysses S. Grant.
Bushs radical dismantling of the federal work force means putting out these jobs for so-called competitive bidding -- but, as the Associated Press reported, under Bushs plan the lowest bid wont automatically win. That means the institution of a pay-to-play system, in which political appointees will decide which corporations get the contracts to provide those employees. And guess wholl wind up getting the choice contracts? Why, the folks who pony up the most campaign cash, of course.
This means turning half the federal government into the civilian equivalent of the military-industrial complex, until now the most corrosively corrupt symbiotic relationship in government. You know how that works: The behemoth military contractors ladle out tens of millions in corporate lucre for the coffers of the major parties and their candidates, creating puissant lobbies of legislators within Congress itself on behalf of weapons systems that have proved inefficient, downright dangerous to their handlers, superfluous or useless. And its the taxpayers who foot the bill for this boodling when, despite the inevitable cost overruns (a remarkably sanitized term for planned theft), those weapons systems are preserved by the crassest form of politics.
For a glimpse of the future under the Bush plan, Californians need only look at the insidious consequences of the states privatization of its prison system, which has created the most powerful corporate-a political lobbies in the state and led to the politicization of the prison work force.
Before the institution of civil service, under what used to be known as the spoils system -- after the famous dictum To the victor belong the spoils -- a government job of any kind was a reward for political service and electoral loyalty. By turning over half of the federal service to Corporate America, the Bush administration will create legions of employees whose jobs will depend on political loyalty to the corporations that hire them, and thus to the party that gives those corporations the employment contracts. The United States will start to resemble the old Soviet Union (or any other totalitarian state), in which a party membership card was a prerequisite for a decent job or advancement in employment.
And the elimination of the federal employee unions through privatization will do away with protections for on-the-job rights, negotiated salaries and independence from corrupt political orders. (The religious right loves the plan: It renders null and void the Clinton executive order against discrimination in federal employment on the basis of sexual orientation for the privatized half of the work force.) The Bush plan is nothing less than a flying leap toward the institutionalization of the Republican Party as the party of government. It is the equivalent of a bloodless coup detat.
The reassuring noises coming from the White House propaganda machine tell us that, for the moment, only low-level jobs, like computer programmers or secretaries, will be privatized. Oh, yeah? Once the principle of a politics-free civil service is eliminated, the corporate lobbies will ensure the mushrooming expansion of the categories of jobs to be privatized.
Moreover, as a consequence of the civil-liberties shredding aspects of the war on terrorism, the government is now permitted to compile KGB-like life dossiers on Americans without so much as a court order. The launching of the Total Information Awareness Program under convicted Reagan-era criminal Admiral John Poindexter means your most intimate and personal habits can be logged and filed in the governments computers. Just imagine how valuable that information could be to Corporate America and its phalanxes of marketers, product designers and kill-the-competition monopolists (pace Bill Gates). The Bush plan will create a whole new category of industrial espionage, in which low-level corporate serfs like computer programmers and secretaries -- who have access to every conceivable kind of personal and policy information as a result of working for the feds -- will be players (with lucrative remuneration for the best spies).
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By filling the government ranks with low-level corporate moles, the Bush plan will make the corruption of government even easier. In fact, it will be even worse than the dark and slimy sewer that was the federal government in the 19th century because, back then, there were virtually no regulatory agencies to monitor corporate conduct. For example, would you want your food to be monitored by meat inspectors who are in the pay of private corporations rather than have them presumably motivated as part of the public service to be watchdogs on those corporations? Would you want your prescription drugs evaluated for safety and monitored for quality by corporate-employed low-level lab technicians (another category to be privatized, and whose salaries, under the Maximize profits corporate mantra, will be even lower than those in the civil service, thus rendering the underpaid employees even more susceptible to corruption than is now the case)? And the list goes on.
In these days of go-go merger mania and the erection of giant multitasked conglomerates whose corporate divisions are related only by the profit motive, the potential for hitherto unimagined conflicts of interest is built in to the Bush plan to corporatize American government. A corporate entity with a division that hires out its mercenaries to staff a government department may have financial interests that conflict with the public good. Information is money in post-industrial America, and the Bush plan offers an unparalleled feeding at the government-information trough to corporate executives with EnronWorldComGlobal Crossing moral and ethical standards.
The Democrats, if only for reasons of self-preservation, should be fighting the Bush plan tooth and nail -- threatening filibusters of appropriations bills to stop the selloff of government, trying to block it with lawsuits, the works -- yet the Democratic leadership has yet to utter a peep of protest. Had the Dems raised this issue and linked it to the dreadful homeland security bill (both are part of the same anti--civil service, anti-union grand strategy) they might have swayed a few votes and reversed the Senates rejection of amendments to rein in some of the bills worst provisions. Of course, the privatization of parts of the federal service began under Bill Clinton, whose dedication to the collection of corporate campaign cash knew no bounds; most of the senior congressional Democrats are on the corporate pad in one way or another; and since the Republican sweep of the recent elections, the Democrats are more scared than ever of confronting Bush head-on.
But if the opposition party does not full-throatedly oppose this new and unprecedented power grab, it will have pitifully acquiesced not only in its relegation to permanent minority status, but to the fulfillment of the old Republican principle -- as enunciated by Calvin Coolidge -- that the chief business of the American people is business. Indeed.