- - Sunday, July 19, 2020

Four years ago, there were a lot of reasons people jumped on Donald Trump’s presidential bandwagon. Some liked his tough talk on immigration. Others responded to his promise to end the bad trade deals that had sent U.S. manufacturing jobs to other countries. And, for at least a few folks, it was the implied promise that Reagan-style limited government would return.

President Trump’s record on that last bit has been mixed. He strongly supported the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts which, after it became law created a miniature economic boom that, while smaller than Reagan’s nonetheless led to economic expansion, job creation, a rise in wages and record low unemployment rates for Blacks and Latinos.

His support for economic deregulation also played a big part in bringing the economy back before the coronavirus crisis hit. Nevertheless, he’s still at it. On Thursday he announced that, after a rigorous review, the regulations governing the National Environmental Policy Act had been updated for the first time in 40 years. The new rules mean the approval process for big infrastructure projects like Mr. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have talked about will be streamlined without compromising the environmental review process, producing considerable savings for the taxpayers.

Where Mr. Trump has failed to lead, and this comes as something of a surprise, has been in privatization. One would think his experience in business would have pushed the issue, still near and dear to the hearts of the Reagan conservatives who helped put him in office, to the top of the list. Instead, it’s languished, never quite becoming the priority some hoped it would be.

It may be that it’s just too hard, that the swamp needs to be drained completely before bureaucratic and congressional resistance to turning government functions over to the private sector can be overcome. Or it could be that the efforts currently underway, few though they may be, are being sabotaged by the folks charged with overseeing them, all the better to create a disincentive to go further.



One privatization effort currently being hashed out has to do with the decision of the U.S. Transportation Command to fix the problems experienced by military families each time they are moved to a new duty station. For years there have been complaints about goods being damaged in transit, items being lost and things not arriving on time or being sent to the wrong place. To make the process run better, the decision was made to transfer the management of it all to a privately held company.

That sounds like a good idea, but it’s been hard to implement. The contract is worth upwards of $20 billion over nine years, meaning there’s a lot at stake. TRANSCOM initially awarded it to the U.S. subsidiary of a Norwegian company called American Roll On Roll Off Carrier Group only to pull it back for additional review after the losing bidders complained to the Government Accountability Office about nine irregularities in ARC’s application.

It usually takes between one and four months for military contracts of this size to be reviewed and for corrective action to be taken. TRANSCOM’s review of the complaints lodged against ARC, one of which had to do with its apparent failure to disclose the criminal history of its parent company, was completed in just two weeks with ARC again emerging as the winner and the “failure to disclose” labeled the result of a misunderstanding arising from a clerical error.

The other issues raised with the GAO, including allegations the technical evaluation process was flawed, remain unaddressed. This has left the companies that filed the initial protest, and whose bids were a reported $2 billion lower than ARCs, to protest once again.

This isn’t how privatization is supposed to work and the military bureaucracy has made a mess of it. What should have been a simple, routine process has run aground amid charges and countercharges that should keep the effort to fix the military moving process tied up in knots for months. That’s to no one’s benefit, least of all the service member families who have little to say about where they go and when.

It also gives the whole idea of privatization a big, black eye. There is a better way to go about it. The president can establish a White House council on privatization. And Congress can establish a select committee on privatization or create a process modeled on what former Congressman Dick Armey came up to close military bases that weren’t needed anymore. The same approach, when taken to government services and programs, if it were transparent and permitted to work and wasn’t just for show, could end up saving the taxpayers billions of dollars a year — money we’re going to need to recoup the COVID-19 spending so generously doled out over the last few months.

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