Letter to the editor
Following is a response from an FCW.com poll question that asked: "Is it possible to have a fair competition between public and private groups bidding for the same work?"
I don't believe it is possible to have a fair competition between the private sector and the public sector for a variety of reasons.
I was a contractor before joining the government and we would have been glad to bid the work at a loss for a year, eliminate the competition (government employees), and then recoup the loss in future years. We probably could have found enough activity that needed to be done and was not in the work we bid on to cover the loss the first year through change orders.
As a contractor we would only need to win once by the slimmest of margins and the government employees would be out the door, never to be seen or competed against again.
A less obvious reason is that the government has a much higher cost of doing business, mainly due to social programs instituted to promote the public welfare. For instance, in my area, there are several handicapped individuals and naturally that requires additional software, additional hardware and, in our case, an additional person -- an interpreter.
You also have things like veterans' preference, Section 508 compliance, and I believe that the government absorbed most of those who came off of welfare, etc. Any private company who bids on these jobs would bid them using their most cost-efficient employees, at least the first time around, and would not have to comply with the same requirements as the government.
To have a fair competition, you would have to allow the government the same capabilities as the private-sector companies they are competing with. That would mean a lot more leeway on who is hired and fired. Fewer legislative requirements. Less legislative oversight. Fewer financial requirements, such as the two sets of books the government has to maintain and reconcile -- proprietary and budgetary. In short, you would have to ask for less from the government.
For the past 40 years we have forced many requirements on the government that were not meant to ensure cost-efficiency, mostly for good reasons like promoting the public welfare, ensuring the accuracy of financial statements, making it easier for congressional oversight, etc.
If you want a cost-efficient government, you need to give it the tools to be cost-efficient and give it the time to use those tools to trim 40 years of other requirements.
Brad Hall Agriculture Department