Letters to the editor

Outsourcing's Benefits?

I have been reading with some interest about the outsourcing situation, especially as it applies to the information technology workforce. I am continually amazed that my experiences with contractors are not observed by the decision-makers who think outsourcing is a good idea.

My agency (the National Labor Relations Board) has used contractors for some time, in a (so far) futile effort to develop a fully functional case-tracking system. Electronic Data Systems Corp. is the primary contractor, and the effort has spanned more than six years and many millions of dollars. The turnover rate of contracting employees has been tremendous, and they have always been in the "get familiar with the agency" cycle. We have had to expend money to train them. We cannot use them for anything other than the immediate requirements of the contract. These are not employees who develop loyalty to the agency and are integrated into its functions in a multipurpose sort of way.

They offer nothing in the way of institutional memory, and their bosses outside the government often transfer them to more significant contracts just when they develop a grasp of the agency's functions and its software. We certainly pay more for them than similarly situated government employees, and the old saw about the government not being encumbered to pay out retirement benefits for them is ridiculous. If EDS employees have a retirement system, the government is paying for their retirement.

What exactly is the benefit, in real terms? We assume that the top dogs in the government are the golf partners of the top dogs in the outsourcing providers' world. It seems that the government wants to abandon the traditional bonds of the employee/employer relationship for unintegrated single-purpose "units" with no loyalty and little understanding—all part of a system that enriches the private-sector management layers and weakens the government infrastructure.

Am I the only one observing this and wondering what others see?

The opinions stated this letter are entirely my own opinions, and should in no way be perceived as official agency views.

Kenneth Burke
National Labor Relations Board

Get Real on Gridlock

As a bicycle commuter in the Washington, D.C., area, I regularly pedal over and around gridlocked commuters sitting alone in their polluting, wasteful 3,000-pound cars. My first reaction to your intelligent transportation system solution was, "Band-aid on cancer."

Wake up, America! Using automobiles as the foundation of our transportation system doesn't work and never will. There simply isn't enough land or resources to support this really bad idea—not to mention the immorality of America scarfing down huge amounts of the Earth's resources while most of the inhabitants of the planet are living at subsistence levels.

Having compact communities that don't require a car and developing an extensive mass transit system seem to me such obvious solutions. Why do we not take that path?

I am not hopeful, given our love affair with cars and the fact that the economic entities that have an interest in maintaining and expanding this system are among the most powerful forces in our society.

One last note: When was the last time you saw a television car ad (out of the thousands that air daily) showing the real world—someone having an awful time in a traffic jam? Oh no, we get such fantasies as cars wandering through bucolic meadows bumping into sheep! Maybe if there were an ITS overhead sign warning of a flock ahead, all would be fine.

Patrick Shea
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Alternate Route

Regarding the article "Grappling with gridlock" (July 2, 2001) and the promise of ITS—if you believe this, I have some swampland in Florida I would like to sell you.

Use your heads. Putting up signs or getting wireless messages regarding traffic delays and suggested alternate routes to drivers will only cause a second traffic jam on the alternate route. In Denver, there is only one highway to go north-south, and one highway to go east-west. When these are congested, you can get off and drive through the neighborhoods (the alternate route) with everyone else, and it still takes the same amount of time to get there.

I cannot believe over a billion tax dollars have been spent on this. I sure would like to own one of the companies benefiting from this incredible waste of tax money. Can you say "pork barrel"?

What we really need are two things:

    1. People who can design a highway properly, with sufficient on-ramps and flyovers.

    2. Driver training on how to accelerate and merge your car into traffic.

Jeff Wiggins
Managing director

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