Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007 | The New York Times article dated Feb. 4, 2007 entitled “In Washington, Contractors Take on Biggest Role Ever” should be mandatory reading for our Washington, D.C.-oriented Mayor Jerry Sanders, since he seems so inclined to mimic the federal outsourcing policy.

Some bullet excerpts capture the article’s essence:

  • “Without a public debate or formal policy decision, contractors have become a virtual fourth branch of government…”
  • “The contracting explosion raises questions about propriety, cost and accountability that have long troubled watchdog groups…”
  • Competition, intended to produce savings, appears to have sharply eroded…fewer than half of all ‘contract actions’ — new contracts and payments against existing contracts — are now subject to full and open competition. Just 48 percent were competitive in 2005, down from 79 percent in 2001…”
  • Agencies are crippled in their ability to seek low prices, supervise contractors and intervene when work goes off course … contracting officers being so overwhelmed, that existing contracts were extended rather than put up for new competitive bidding…
  • “The Army spent 25 percent more than it had to because it used sole-source contracts at 40 of 57 sites…”
  • “The most successful contractors are not necessarily those doing the best work, but those who have mastered the special skill of selling to Uncle Sam…”
  • “Contracting almost always leads to less public scrutiny, as government programs are hidden behind closed corporate doors. Companies, unlike agencies, are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act…”
  • “Private companies cannot be expected to look out for taxpayers’ interests…”
  • “There’s something civil servants have that the private sector doesn’t…that is the duty of loyalty to the greater good … Companies have duties of loyalty to their shareholders, not to the Country…”
  • “Wariness of government contracting dates at least to 1941, when Harry S. Truman, then a senator, declared,  “I have never yet found a contractor who, if not watched, would not leave the government holding the bag…’”
  • “The price of $104 an hour — well over $200,000 per person annually — was roughly double the cost of pay and benefits of a comparable federal worker … These differences in salary and benefits (between contractors and agencies) could  substantially undermine staff relations and morale…”

In 1980, Oceanside switched to private engineering services, but switched back in 1985 in order to realize significant cost savings. A few years ago, an extensive comparative study by our city of San Diego survey section reported considerably fewer in-house costs compared to outsource competition. Surveyors are part of Field Engineering, and in 2002, a surveying job for hydrographic mapping of city reservoirs was done for $165,000 as compared to an outside contractor bid for $345,000.

We in San Diego’s electrical field engineering section can cite example after example of contract overcharging. One contractor offered a bid of $10,000 for some striping work that city forces did for $1,500. Another contractor angled for $35,000 to build two pedestrian ramps that our city forces built for $17,000 — not only the two ramps, but an additional five.

Mayor Sanders, seriously reconsider your assumption that by laying off employees and outsourcing to private contractors, you can save the city of San Diego big money. The failure of federal and local governments to do so, eloquently argues against your decision. Your exercise in futility is a counterproductive and expensive sidetrack which will utterly fail to avoid the realistic solution of raising taxes and fees.

Richard M. Dell’Orfano is the assistant electrical engineer for the city of San Diego

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