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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Listen up Mr. President. The buck stops at your desk.

George W. Bush wants to transfer some 800,000 civilian jobs in the federal government to private business. That is about half of the civil service and such a move is urged in order to save the government money and do the work more efficiently.

Whatever you call it — contracting out, outsourcing, privatizing or corporatizing these governmental functions — there is no escape from managing the corporate contractors in order to prevent spreading waste, fraud and abuse. So, President Bush, walk over to your Department of Energy and see what has happened to 90 percent of its entire budget which is contracted out regularly to firms with a total of 100,000 employees.
On Sunday, November 24, 2002, Joel Brinkley of the New York Times wrote a description of how government bureaucracies and their corporate contractors can combine to produce a long-standing disaster of non-performance and colossal loss of taxpayer dollars.

Notice who is cited by Brinkley to make his story. The evidence comes from within the Department of Energy itself in official reports and commentary. Also, the evidence comes from outside the Department by authorities whose legal mission is to investigate government waste.

Yet, year after year, nothing of any consequence changes the radioactive waste left by the nuclear weapons programs which themselves involved heavy outside contractors. An internal report coupled with auditors’ reports documented 13 years of mismanagement which wasted “much of the 460 billion it has spent over that time,” writes Brinkley. One example: a project to deal with 34 million gallons of stored liquids in South Carolina was supposed to take three years and cost $32 million starting in 1985. Fourteen years later, the Department ended the project as unworkable due to mismanagement. But not before the taxpayers were taken for $500 million. Imagine that sum spent on safe city playgrounds for our children in America’s cities).

Others have weighed in to denounce the mess. The General Accounting Office (GAO) regularly exposes what it has called the “high risk” nightmare of the contract management debacles. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget, under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, have repeated each other’s tedious conclusions that there are two strata to the Department — the top where new relays of appointees promise change and reform, and the lower netherlands where contractors and their government procurement staff cook their dysfunctional deals.

Just last September, a GAO audit said the situations were worsening with greater cost over-runs and deadlines delayed. Brinkley lands a memorable, amazing statement by Jessie Roberson, the current assistant secretary of energy for environmental management, who said that critical investigations become so redundant that actually encourage agencies to stay with the offending practices. “There has been a learned pattern of co-dependency between the department and the GAO and the inspector General [of the Department]. When they identify problems, our job is to stand firm and explain the problems away. And with that posture, the problems don’t get better over time.” Ms. Roberson promises new initiatives and expects to hire 200 more trained supervisors.

Other mainstream institutions have weighed in on Secretary Spencer Abraham’s hapless Energy Department, apart from his own audits. The National Research Council (NRC) sharply observed in a report last year that the Department awards contracts to clean up radioactive sites without looking back.

The NRC, responding to a Congressional instruction. minced no words, accusing the Energy Department of wasting half of the $17 billion it spends on contracts and of having ‘virtually abdicated its role of owner in project oversight.’

Even the Office of Management and Budget, which has great powers to affect Departmental practices, seems resigned to another round of pledges and promises from high officials that change is coming. One OMB official is quoted by the Times as saying “so far, we’ve had more discussions about what they are planning to do than anything they have actually done.”

Brinkley could write a followup story about how year after year this institutionally corrupt tryst between vendors and vendees can be so resistant to budging, so impervious to Congress, OMB, the GAO, its own leadership, its own internal auditors, its own chief financial officers and to media exposes.

The easy answer is that a ‘corporate state’ situation produces the corporate control of government and leaves the politicians at the top with lip service outrage but with heads who find it rewarding to look the other way.

All the myths about how government can be made accountable are punctured by this outsourced Department of Energy. Except, that is, getting rid of outsourcing what is an essential governmental function, thus ending this passing of the buck with billions of dollars.

Listen up Mr. President. The buck stops at your desk, as Harry Truman once said.