But in recent decades, the dramatic push for more and more privatization of federal functions has gone beyond a discussion or analysis about how to best sort out public and private functions, turning into a headlong rush to privatize more. A good part of this is ideological in nature -- driven by vociferously antigovernment ideologues who want to squeeze the size and role of government, decapitate government-employee unions, and discredit government generally along the way. Another part is greed: Sell off parts of government, or hand out contracts, in ways that reward one's cronies and campaign benefactors. And a third part is to hide the costs of difficult or unpopular activities such as war or spying. Mixed in with these motives is a broader, less malign one: As government has been squeezed and public employees vilified and cut back, the only feasible way to hire competent people who are needed to fill important functions is to do it through the back door.
The intelligence brouhaha and Snowden fiasco -- how could this guy have been hired, given his high-level classification, paid $122,000 a year, and gain access to areas expressly off-limits for someone at his level? -- should make us focus on the bigger issue, and bigger problem, here. We have vastly over-privatized, and in the process lost control over swaths of important policy areas while allowing unaccountable and even outlaw behavior to expand. And we have created areas where crony capitalism can meet crony government to create crony corruption that cheats all taxpayers.
Beyond the intelligence area, we can hark back to the last set of outrageous and scandalous privatized behaviors -- the privatization of war, with the sharp proliferation of private contractors sent to Iraq and Afghanistan who operated outside the restraints of the U.S. military, the common conventions of behavior in war, and the laws of the countries in which they operated. Murders and rapes clearly occurred multiple times by employees of contractors in these countries, and the perpetrators got off scot-free. There were at times more than 100,000 contractors in Iraq, including nearly 50,000 "soldiers," many making $1,000 a day, far more than active-duty military, with the money coming from American taxpayers. Conveniently for politicians, if these "soldiers" died, they were not counted in the official death toll of Americans killed in the war.
Then there is the corruption, which is at least as worrisome as the corruption we have from the lobbying industry interacting with lawmakers and congressional staff, illustrated chillingly by Jack Abramoff and described compellingly by Bob Kaiser in his book So Damn Much Money. If multiple public functions are privatized, or partially privatized, government employees have huge incentives to curry favor with potential private employers by granting them rich contracts or consulting fees, and then subsequently getting jobs paying multiples of their government salaries -- or just giving nice perks to one's former colleagues and friends who left for the private sector. Waste and fraud are legion in Pentagon contracts, Energy Department contracts, and multiple other places. Just last week, The Washington Post reported on an Energy Department inspector general report questioning $450,000 in consulting fees paid to former Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., with the contractors who billed the Energy Department unable to document her work.