June 25, 2003
Cheryl Kelso
Adele M. Stan
(202) 639-6419

The True Cost Of Government Privatization

SEATTLE—As the Bush Administration continues its headlong push toward the outsourcing of millions of public sector jobs, Representative Jim McDermott will moderate a public inquiry into the likely impact of such wholesale privatization of government work on American taxpayers and public service employees. "I'm alarmed that important functions currently performed by our civil service are being outsourced to the private sector,” McDermott explains. “What will the real cost to taxpayers be in terms of the safety and privacy of our citizens?"

The event, sponsored by Local 3197 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), will include presentations made on behalf of workers and taxpayers to a panel of Washington State congressmen, including Representatives Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen and Adam Smith. Among those addressing the panel will be AFGE National Vice President Gerald D. Swanke. Local 3197 represents employees of the Seattle Veterans Affairs (VA) Puget Sound Medical Center.

If the Bush Administration has its way, the transfer of billions of taxpayer dollars—and control of public services on which citizens rely—will go to corporations like Halliburton, Enron and other big-business campaign donors and profiteers. Plans are afoot to outsource some 850,000 federal jobs to private corporations, including those that deal with the most intimate details of taxpayers’ lives, such as their Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statements and the health care of veterans.

In the Seattle area, the jobs of 46,000 federal employees contribute more than $1 billion in salaries annually to the local economy. “In an era of economic hardship, it is fiscally irresponsible to replace appropriately compensated federal workers with the poorly paid employees of private contractors,” asserts AFGE National President Bobby L. Harnage, Sr. The loss of health and retirement benefits for some 16,000 federal employees in the State of Washington alone—the likely result of the administration’s mandate to put up half of the jobs it has deemed “commercial” for competition by 2004—will result in a further drag on the state budget, as displaced workers rely on state services to bridge the gap.

“At VA medical facilities across the nation, veterans stand to see their health care turned over to private companies motivated solely by profits,” Harnage explains. “Adding insult to injury, jobs in VA hospitals that are routinely filled by veterans—such as housekeeping and

grounds-keeping positions—could, under the administration’s plan, be taken from them and doled out to campaign contributors. That’s some way to thank those who put their lives on the line for their country.”

Nationwide, the Department of Veterans Affairs employs 207,000 full-time employees, 89 percent of whom hold positions that have been designated as “commercial” and therefore fair game for contracting out. In Seattle, these include the VA Medical Center’s housekeeping staff—most of whom are veterans themselves, and many of them disabled vets—along with employees in radiology and laboratory services, nutrition and food services, plant operations, biomedical engineering, and pharmacy.

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