Next week, the City Council will approve an IT service contract for $45 million annually. This is to process over 60 million emails, maintain hundreds of software applications from golf-course reservation to service schedules of fire engines and handle emergencies from virus attacks to network blackouts. The contractor is a nonprofit corporation that has had a sole-source agreement with the City since 1979, the San Diego Data Processing Corporation (SDDPC).

The most outstanding element that distinguishes the new SDDPC contract from any other contract, is its level of transparency. Everything the contractor does in the performance of public functions is subject to the Public Records Act. Every meeting of the corporation board is subject to the Brown Act. It submits annual financial statements as well as performance reviews and customer satisfaction surveys. And, the public knows the compensation of its executives as well as its employees.

Now, SDDPC employees are not public sector employees. But, the Union Tribune thinks so. Perhaps that is because they employ 270 middle-class workers locally with family healthcare benefits. Even then, the editorial makes sweeping conclusions:

Nevertheless, the mayor’s goal of using less costly private sector service providers remains a great idea. It’s a goal shared by San Diegans, who in 2006 voted decisively for a ballot measure allowing the city to outsource many services. If implemented smartly and aggressively, outsourcing could help alleviate the vast long-term fiscal problems the city faces because of its unfunded pension debt.

So, let us examine the facts.

First, the editorial claims that there are “less costly” providers. This would only be accurate if the city had actually got comparable quotes from other providers at the same level that SDDPC provides. None of the presentations from the city on the support services maintain the current level of service quality.

Second, the Union Tribune conflates the bid with the 2006 measure called “Managed Competition.” Now, since IT services were already outsourced to SDDPC three decades ago, is this argument relevant? If it is, by the same logic, why was CCDC, a similar sole-source service contractor with a similar Operating Agreement, not subject to “Managed Competition”?

In fact, the questions raised by the “outsourcing” bid would not have occurred had the process approved by voters been followed. This process required an Independent Review Board to evaluate whether a service could be performed more efficiently and effectively than by classified city workers, service quality had to be maintained and the Mayor and Council only got an up-or-down vote.

Contracting should not be a backdoor way to lower service quality and quality of life for San Diegans. Going forward, all contractors need to be subject to the same level of transparency as the city expects from its own workforce. RFPs over $250,000 should only go forward when the council publicly determines that service quality is maintained. And, finally, all contractors using our public money need to pay living wages and create local jobs for San Diegans.


Murtaza Baxamusa

Murtaza Baxamusa works for the San Diego Building Trades Family Housing Corp. and volunteered as a special policy adviser for Bob Filner.

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