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We're starving our land managers to pay private companies

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Wildfires are again raging as heat and drought continue across the West. Now that Congress has recessed without providing any funding for firefighting, the U.S. Forest Service is expected to keep fighting the fires, and to take the money needed for that task from other areas in its already shrinking budget.

Though our national parks employees have historically been the lowest-paid federal employees, now the administration proposes to eliminate even them. This “outsourcing” proposal calls for doing away with the jobs they do, such as ranger and historian, by having private contractors do the work and save the government money.

When this plan is implemented, private businesses will be getting the tax dollars and revenues generated on our public lands.

It’s already happening in the national forests. As an example, one “private contractor,” Recreation Resource Management, headquartered in Sedona, Ariz., got the Forest Service contract to run campgrounds in its home territory. It also has expanded, doing the same thing throughout the Pacific Northwest. But if Recreation Resource Management can buy nice new white trucks, pay staff, back modest improvements, give some of the revenue generated to the Forest Service, and still make a profit, then why can’t the Forest Service do the same thing, and use the profit to further enhance our public facilities, instead of it going into the pockets of the private contractors?

During the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, privatization was the agenda. The secretary of Defense during part of that era, current Vice President Dick Cheney, conducted a similar “outsourcing” effort within the Department of Defense. Halliburton got many of those contracts. Mr. Cheney and several military people then went to work for Halliburton after their government stays ended; Mr. Cheney, in fact was the company’s CEO up until the time he became the candidate for vice president. Recently, bypassing the competitive bidding process, Halliburton was awarded significant contracts using our tax dollars to rebuild Iraq.

It’s no secret that the shareholders of Enron and WorldCom and Tyco and Adelphia and others were ripped off by manipulative executives seeking to build their own personal fortunes. Our government is doing the same thing to us, the shareholders of the public company that we collectively own. We should be equally outraged.

“Governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed.” Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Are we doing the same?

Michael J. Aune
Lynden, Washington

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