Under the guise of flexibility, the Bush administration is quietly engineering a corporate takeover of government. President Bush has ordered all federal agencies to solicit bids from private corporations to replace 425,000 civil service jobs by the next election. That’s nearly one-quarter of the entire permanent federal workforce.
Park Service has been one of the first agencies slated to implement
what the Bush administration calls "competitive sourcing."
According to agency documents, the plan entails potential
replacement of 11,000 employees -- more than two-thirds of the Park
Service’s permanent workforce.
Positions now subject
to contracting include not just maintenance workers but also park
biologists, archeologists, environmental specialists and
interpretive park rangers. Once the plan is fully implemented, the
Park Service will turn over almost all archaeological and cultural
resource responsibilities to private consultants. But in its haste
to move the program forward, the agency has yet to assess its
impacts on park operations, scientific integrity and workforce
Newly relaxed rules pushed by the Bush
administration also authorize outsourcing even in cases where a
contractor costs taxpayers more than a civil servant. Meanwhile,
the Forest Service is preparing to contract out timber-sale
administration and its entire budgetary staff, as well as
significant portions of environmental and fire-control
To do this, the Forest Service is spending as
much as $100 million -- 10 times more than what it publicly claimed
-- on consultants for outsourcing studies. And all of this money is
coming out of existing operations.
That means trail and
campground work has been shelved, and it also means that fire
accounts have been raided for privatization-related expenses. Not
coincidentally, the Forest Service declared in August that it had
run out of money to fight fires for the year.
At the same
time, the Bush administration is pursuing other privatization
• Its forest stewardship contracts allow
companies to manage forest restorations by also cutting
commercially valuable timber ,
• Its Cooperative
Range Improvement Agreements give ranchers an ownership interest in
fences, wells and pipelines built on federal land, and
• Its Profit Sharing plan allows private companies to earn
money from publicly owned resources through bioprospecting and
other research ventures in national parks.
these plans represent an unprecedented transformation that opens
our national parks, forests and other public resources to
Two other dynamics are also radically
transforming our federal agencies. The first is a rolling repeal of
civil service protections. After a bruising battle that may have
cost the Democrats control of the Senate, the Department of
Homeland Security repealed civil service and collective bargaining
rights for the 22 agencies placed under its umbrella.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is proposing to "transform" the
Pentagon work force into a public plantation with discretion to
replace, fire or transfer employees. Defense and Homeland Security
represent about half of the entire federal workforce. As these two
big dominoes fall, other agencies will inevitably follow.
The second dynamic is large successive tax cuts coupled with
dramatic increases in defense and security spending that saps the
fiscal base for domestic budgets. No-growth budgets in 2004 for
environmental agencies will shrink, requiring significant cuts in
2005 and 2006, if Mr. Bush follows the plan of his advisor Karl
Rove to seek a major tax cut every year he is in office.
Speaking of Mr. Rove, the political implications of these plans are
obvious. Unionized civil servants will be replaced by grateful
contractors who will further swell Republican coffers, while
Democratic-leaning unions are stripped of members. These plans
recall the old spoils system where the incumbent party fires all
perceived opponents and lines the pockets of its cronies.
This new spoils system erodes the ability of agency specialists to
honestly do their jobs on controversial issues fraught with
corporate (and thus, political) pressure. Scientists and managers
risk being summarily replaced by contractors. Give the wrong
opinion and a biologist might find herself on a new job or laid
off. Given that clean air and water laws require public agencies to
enforce them, public employee safeguards are in fact environmental
concerns. Our natural resources will suffer when the experts are
silenced, purged or bought off.
A tightly divided Congress
returns in September to decide the fate of many of these
initiatives. As long as this remains a struggle confined "Inside
the Beltway," without the public expressing its interest in the
outcome, the new spoils system will prevail. And the revolving door
of money and special interests will spin ever faster.