Commentary by J. ROBB BRADY
J. Robb Brady is the former
publisher of the Post Register in Idaho Falls and a member of its
Why not run government like a
business? Indeed, why not hire business to run government?
Makes sense, right?
Government is not a business—and
never will be. Blur the distinctions too much and you’re asking for
Case in point: The Bush
administration’s feverish push to hire private contractors to do
national forest work now performed by civil servants.
It’s prompted a farcical poster
from critics in the environmental community: "Welcome to your National
Forest, managed by Extraction Inc."
The Bush administration has
brushed it off as "another example of environmental extremism."
But is it? In a state like
Idaho—where the federal government owns two-thirds of the land—the
implications of this policy could not be larger. If you hike, camp,
hunt, fish, watch wildlife—or just rely on a quality natural environment
to preserve watersheds—you have a big stake in what’s going on here.
For one thing, you can’t be sure
going private—which requires INEEL-style specifications (and
lawsuits)—is truly more efficient than hiring professional staff who can
move flexibly from job to job. When U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale
Bosworth met with the Post Register last month, he said the Forest
Service has been successful in demonstrating the advantages of keeping
much of this work in-house.
And for another thing, you can’t
be sure where the private contractor’s loyalty lies.
In September, the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service—under orders from the Bush administration—reversed
itself and hired a private company to determine the status of the
endangered northern spotted owl in Oregon.
Turns out the contractor earns 44
percent of its money from the timber industry—which is blocked from
harvesting trees in areas deemed to be habitat for the owls.
Makes you wonder which was the
primary focus: Protecting owls or logging?
Here’s another example: In
October, the Bush administration hired a contractor to write a
management plan for the Steens Mountain National Monument in Oregon.
Turns out the private consultant has ties to the mining industry.
Surprise! The company recommended
opening up the monument—Oregon’s largest public landscape—to mineral
When civil servants perform this
work, they are bound by ethics laws and they are held accountable to the
American taxpayer. Not so for private consultants or contractors.
Federal employees are prohibited
from accepting gifts or bribes from those doing business with the
Not so for private consultants.
Federal employees cannot feather
their nest by advancing projects that profit their family or friends.
Their work is subject to disclosure under public records and freedom of
Not so with private consultants.
Federal employees can’t moonlight
if it creates a conflict of interest with their primary job. They can’t
accept pay for representing outside business interests in matters
involving federal decisions.
Not so with private contractors.
The Forest Service Employees for
Environmental Ethics—which has filed a lawsuit challenging the
concept—says the Bush plan is targeting 75 percent of the agency’s work
force. Work now performed by Forest Service staff biologists, soil
scientists, archaeologists, fisheries experts, hydrologists and
foresters will be studied for "outsourcing."
Every national forest in Idaho
could be affected. But it doesn’t stop there. Indeed, there also are
plans to hire a contractor to do work now performed by the Federal
Aviation Administration in Boise--Idaho’s only weather and flight safety
office. It’s possible a private contractor would move this operation out
If you value a Forest Service that
has only one master—the public—you better hope the "outsourcing" critics
prevail in court.