Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Privatization at FSSA

Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, has filed a bill to stop the Family and Social Services Administration from automating welfare intake in any counties beyond the original 59 counties where it has been introduced, until lawmakers have been satisfied that problems have been fixed. Senator Vaneta Becker R-Evansville has indicated that she will sponsor the bill should it make it to the Senate.

Bravo. Rep. Crouch and Senator Becker have taken a lot of grief over their opposition to the Governor's privatization initiative. But unlike many of the protests against privatization led by Democrats, which are based more on the undermining of government unions rather than the quality of the service provided by the private company with the government contract, Crouch and Becker's motivation seems to be the stories of poor welfare services provided to their constituents. For these two Republican legislators to take on a newly-reelected Republican governor on this issue, the complaints about FSSA privatization in their districts must have been overwhelming.

Whether or not the FSSA privatization can be made to work is an open-ended question that should be investigated. As I have said many times before on these pages, Republicans have repeatedly dropped the ball when it comes to privatization. When privatization became popular in the 1980s, it was about the idea of taking a government service and subjecting the provision of that service to the competion of the marketplace. Instead Republican office holders, and in some cases Democrats, have forged ahead with privatization giving private companies long-term contracts that, instead of instilling market competition into the delivery of the service, grants the company a government-mandated monopoly that shields the company from competition.

The inevitable result is that the company cuts back on the services provided. An example locally is the privately run jail in Marion County, which eliminated one of three rounds medication to inmates not because it was in their best interest, but because they did not want to replace medical staff that had formerly passed out the medication. Translation: the company wanted to make more money. So what if you were supposed to get your blood pressure medicine three times a day and now can get it only two times daily?

Elected officials have also failed miserably when it comes to overseeing privatization contracts. Rarely is a contractor sanctioned or called on the carpet for failing to live up to its contractual obligations. When it comes to long term privatization contracts, the ten year contract for example, government has almost no leverage to get out of the contract and turn the service over to another company or back to the private sector.

Privatization is the new 2% patronage club. The privatization of government services has resulted in companies seeking those contract to infuse the political system with large political contributions. In return those companies walk away with contracts. Armed with taxpayer dollars, those companies then shovel more money into the political system for the unspoken purpose of currying favor so that oversight of the contract is little and that the contract will eventually be renewed.

It's a shame that privatization, a great idea on paper, has been so bungled in implementation. While the privatization of some services simply does not work because of the nature of those services, it would work in many instances. But privatization has to be about bringing market competition into the delivery of a service. When government grants private companies a long-term monopoly to provide a service, the privatization effort is anything but an effort to instill market competition into the delivery of that service . Rep. Crouch and Sen. Becker should be applauded for standing up for their constituents and asking that there be a closer review of the privatization effort at FSSA.


Leslie Sourwine said...

Our government has a poor history of oversight of many of the programs they implement. Because they fail to provide the necessary oversight the programs end up benefiting only those who are running them. Private jails and prisons are a good example. The company interested only in making a profit does not do the job they are hired to do and society pays both in taxpayer dollars and additional crimes being committed in society. We should keep a close eye on the lobbying these firms are doing because their motives are to make a profit, not in providing benefits to society. If they should ever manage to get the contracts to provide medical care to our nation’s poor we are in serious trouble. Even those of us who have jobs and health care provided by our employers should fight any privatization of medical care that will be handled by any of the corporations who are now doing private incarceration because the way the economy is any one of us could fall victim to these private companies and the poor services they provide.

Leslie Sourwine

Anonymous said...

I am able to view this privatization first hand. I am seeing the poor training that the private company employees are getting. I am also seeing how these employees are mandated to work 50+ hours per week. If they don't? Fired! These overtimes hours would be great if they were voluntary or even if they had more than 2 days notice.
The private company is not only cutting services it will provide to the clients it is cutting the employees' benefits as well.
No longer will the FSSA offices been seen as Social Services. These employees are not allowed to have empathy for these cliets.
The motto of the FSSA is "Helping people help themselves". Personally, I do not see how this agency is able to help anyone.

The private workers are being taken from their offices (if they are still in a county that hasn't been converted) and they are being forced to help the counties that have been converted. These converted counties can't keep up with their own work. Who will bail out the last few counties when they transfer systems? No one. If these counties can't keep up now what will happen when the entire state is on this system.