Category Archives: Public/Private.Partnerships

Editorial: The Student Loan Industry Finds Friends in Washington

Source: Editorial Board, New York Times, March 18, 2018
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made clear even before taking office last year that she was more interested in protecting the companies that are paid by the government to collect federal student loan payments than in helping borrowers who have been driven into financial ruin by those same companies. Ms. DeVos’ eagerness to shill for those corporate interests is apparent in a craven new policy statement from the Education Department. The document claims that the federal government can pre-empt state laws that rein in student loan servicing companies if such a law “undermines uniform administration of’’ the student loan program. …


Banks Look to Break Government’s Hold on Student-Loan Market
Source: Josh Mitchell and AnnaMaria Andriotis, Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2018
Private lenders are pushing to break up the government’s near monopoly in the $100 billion-a-year student-loan market. The banking industry’s main lobbying group, the Consumer Bankers Association, is pressing for the government to instate caps on how much individual graduate students and parents of undergraduates can borrow from the government to cover tuition. That would force many families to turn to private lenders to cover portions of their bills. While that could mean lower interest rates for some, it could constrain funding to households with blemished credit histories. A group of investors also is lobbying for legislation to provide a clearer legal framework for “income-share agreements,” under which private investors provide money upfront to cover tuition in exchange for a portion of a student’s income after school. …

DeVos drops plan to overhaul student loan servicing
Source: Michael Stratford, Politico, August 1, 2017
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday abandoned her plan to overhaul how the federal government collects payments from the nation’s more than 42 million student loan borrowers after it faced growing resistance from congressional Republicans and Democrats.  The Trump administration announced that it was scrapping plans to award a massive contract to a single company to manage the monthly payments of all student loan borrowers, and said it would come up with a new proposal aimed at improving customer service for student loan payments. …

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The VA Is the Closest Thing We Have to Single Payer. Now Trump Wants to Privatize It.

Source: Bryce Covert, In These Times, March 15, 2018
Aaron Hughes, who was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in 2003 and 2004, now has a serious, very rare lung condition. But he told In These Times he gets “really outstanding care” at the nearby Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. “The doctors are at the top of their class,” he said. Because his condition is so rare, Hughes has been sent to a hospital outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for specific tests. And his taste of the private healthcare system has been sour. “As soon as I went there, all hell broke loose,” he said said, explaining there were problems with sharing records between the two institutions. … Hughes thinks these problems could get worse if efforts to fully privatize the VA are successful. President Donald Trump has supported privatizing the system, and has called to make permanent the Veterans Choice Program, an experiment Congress launched in 2014 that gives vouchers to veterans to see private doctors, while cutting other parts of the agency. These developments have provoked concerns that Trump will usher in a full private sector takeover. …


More funding, accountability for VA Choice program proposed, now what?
Source: Steff Thomas, Federal News Radio, August 7, 2017

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin received his wish last week as the House passed a bill that will add an additional $2.1 billion for the Veterans Choice Program. The bill, also known as the Choice Act, was introduced just weeks before the current Choice program funding was set to expire, and passed as a last-minute decision before Congress left for the August recess. One question that still lingers is, if passed into law, how will that money be spent? In an interview on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin, Shulkin outlined in detail some of the ways the Veteran Affairs Department would use the extra funds in a system of modernization projects, construction of new facilities and comprehensive public-private sector partnerships.

… These private-public partnerships would allow veterans to get best-in-class care at VA facilities and, when they needed to, take advantage of the services from community providers. It would alleviate some waiting times and give veterans more options for health care. Shulkin strongly urged that this idea was not an attempt to privatize VA operations, but to create a stronger and more modern system. He said even President Donald Trump’s budget proposal was supportive of improving more services within the VA, and not at all representative of someone supporting privatization. …

How VA Reform Turned Into a Fight Over Privatization
Source: Russell Berman, The Atlantic, July 17, 2017

In 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs was mired in a scandal. An inspector general’s report had found “systemic” manipulation by government officials to hide lengthy and growing wait times at its medical centers. … Spurred to action, Congress created a program aimed at temporarily alleviating the strain on the VA: Veterans who lived more than 40 miles from a health-care facility or who had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment could take their benefits outside the system and seek treatment from private doctors. …The Choice Program, as it was called, would allow veterans to get the care they needed while giving policy-makers time to make broader fixes at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which suffered from mismanagement and insufficient resources. Three years later, attempts by Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration to extend and significantly expand the Choice Program have given these groups and leading Democrats a new worry: a creeping privatization of the VA. …

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Texas city drops its bus service in favor of ridesharing vans

Source: Jon Fingas, Engadget, March 12, 2018

Ridesharing companies often dream of changing the face of public transportation, but one of them is going a step further — it’s becoming the only option for public transportation in one community. Arlington, Texas is replacing its bus service with Via’s ridesharing platform. Pay $3 per trip ($10 for a weekly pass) and you can hop in a Mercedes van that will take you where you need to go, whether your hail it through a smartphone app or a phone call. … The low fares are possible thanks to subsidies from the city, which is providing about a third of the overall project’s cost (about $322,500). The Federal Transit Administration is supplying the rest. Whether or not it lasts for a while depends on the initial experience. … This is arguably one of the larger experiments of its kind, however, and it hints at the potential future of ridesharing: it could become the go-to option for public transportation in cities that can’t afford or justify extensive bus or subway routes. …

Trump Infrastructure Plan Likely Will Keep Wage Protections

Source: Chris Opfer, Workplace Law Report, March 15, 2018
The Trump administration won’t try to water down prevailing wage protections for construction and other workers as part of its $1.5 trillion infrastructure spending plan, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said March 14. “I obviously think this bill needs to be done on a bipartisan basis and you’re telling me that without that protection it would be hard to achieve,” Chao said in response to a question from Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Peters asked Chao if she would agree to “protect” prevailing wage rate requirements on government projects as a “critical component” of any infrastructure spending measure. Acosta said he agreed that the “bill needs to go forward on a bipartisan basis.” …


Trump Cabinet members press Senate panel on infrastructure overhaul
Source: Mallory Shelbourne, The Hill, March 14, 2018
A Senate panel on Wednesday heard five different Trump Cabinet members press hard on the need for an infrastructure overhaul.  Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was joined by four other Cabinet members at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, as Chao testified for the third time this month on the administration’s infrastructure proposal. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also made the case for President Trump’s rebuilding blueprint, which allocates $200 billion in federal seed money that the administration argues will lead to a $1.5 trillion overhaul. But neither the administration nor lawmakers have identified a clear revenue stream for Trump’s plan, which seeks to incentivize both local and private investment. …

Trump to Promote Infrastructure Plan as Lawmakers Seek Funding
Source: Mark Niquette, Bloomberg, March 14, 2018
The White House says Donald Trump will campaign to pass legislation this year to upgrade roads, bridges and other public works, as members of Congress from both parties say it will only happen with a push from the president. The president plans to travel around the country to promote his proposal ahead of the congressional election in November, White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short said in an interview Tuesday. An event to roll out Trump’s plan was canceled last month after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. … Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and three other cabinet secretaries will go before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday to discuss the plan to provide at least $200 billion in federal funds over 10 years, mostly to spur at least $1.5 trillion in spending by states, localities and the private sector. The plan also would cut the process of issuing permits for projects to two years. …

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Puerto Rico’s governor presses power utility privatization

Source: Luis J. Valentin Ortiz, Reuters, March 5, 2018
Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello on Monday pressed proposals for privatizing the U.S. commonwealth’s shattered electrical grid as part of its painstaking recovery from devastating September hurricanes. Rossello used his State of the State speech to say that he had introduced an energy reform bill on Monday, while outlining ideas for cutting taxes, increasing police pay and introducing education reforms. …


Contractors Are Leaving Puerto Rico, Where Many Still Lack Power
Source: Frances Robles, New York Times, February 26, 2018

Though hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans remain in the dark five months after a devastating hurricane trampled the island’s power grid, the federal government has begun to scale back the number of contractors it has working to get the lights back on. The United States Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of the federal effort to repair the power grid on the island, where a Category 4 storm last fall knocked out electricity to every home and business. The corps gave major contracts to two companies, Fluor Corporation and PowerSecure, and coordinates their work with the efforts of the island’s government-run power utility, which has also hired contractors and brought in crews from mainland utilities. At one point, there were a total of 6,200 workers repairing transmission and distribution lines across the island, about half of them working for the corps. Now that power has been restored to more than 1.1 million people, by the utility’s count — about 86 percent of the island’s customers — the corps said it would begin a “responsible drawdown” of its work force. …

Why privatizing Puerto Rico’s power grid won’t solve its energy problems
Source: Associated Press, February 7, 2018
A major barrier to restoring power is Puerto Rico’s public power utility, known as PREPA. Bankrupt, its infrastructure dilapidated, PREPA has been unable to repair the island’s devastated grid. It is also seen as corrupt. In January, some customers left in the dark for months received bills for “services rendered.” Thousands more were slapped with overcharges. … Welcoming private energy companies to the island didn’t just weaken PREPA – it also damaged the environment. As revealed in a 2017 investigative reporting series by Puerto Rico’s Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, the multinational AES badly mismanaged the ash byproduct from a coal plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico, to brutal results. …

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Cracks in Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto waterfront plan after fanfare

Source: Jeff Gray, The Globe and Mail, February 23, 2018

… Sidewalk Labs, the unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc. selected to help transform a parcel of land known as Quayside, at the foot of Parliament Street, listed off a dizzying array of technologies it could develop in Canada’s largest city, then sell elsewhere: cameras and sensors that detect pedestrians at traffic lights or alert cleanup crews when garbage bins overflow; robotic vehicles that whisk away garbage in underground tunnels; heated bike lanes to melt snow; even a new street layout to accommodate a fleet of self-driving cars. Four months have passed since Waterfront Toronto, the municipal-provincial-federal development agency, named Sidewalk its “innovation and funding partner” for the project – time enough for some of the gee-whiz talk of hyper-energy-efficient modular buildings and “taxibots” to be replaced by a rising chorus of critics both inside and outside City Hall. Many are concerned about the data Sidewalk could collect. Some say the deal has been shrouded in secrecy. Others fear the company’s vague but sweeping plans could threaten the city’s authority over a massive swath of waterfront or even its public transit system and other key services. … Meanwhile, despite briefings from Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk executives, some city councillors say they still have little idea what Sidewalk actually intends to do – or where. …


Beware Of Google’s Intentions
Source: Susan Crawford, Wired, February 1, 2018

In partnering with local governments to create infrastructure, Alphabet says it is only trying to help. Local governments shouldn’t believe it. ….. Beginning last fall, Toronto has been getting a flood of publicity about a deal with Sidewalk Labs, part of Google spinoff Alphabet. Reports describe the deal as giving Sidewalk the authority to build in an undeveloped 12-acre portion of the city called Quayside. The idea is that Sidewalk will collect data about everything from water use to air quality to the perambulations of Quayside’s future populace and use that data to run energy, transport, and all other systems. Swarms of sensors inside and outside buildings and on streets will be constantly on duty, monitoring and modulating.

But Toronto recently revealed that deal has put it in a tough place. A nonprofit development corporation, not the city, made the arrangement with Google that sparked all the publicity—the city itself doesn’t appear to have known a deal with Google was in the works. Now the situation appears messy: The details of the arrangement are not public, the planning process is being paid for by Google, and Google won’t continue funding that process unless government authorities promise they’ll reach a final agreement that aligns with Google’s interests. Those interests include Google’s desire to expand its Toronto experiments beyond that 12-acre Quayside plot.….

How Boston’s Airport Bounced Back From the Storm That Crippled J.F.K.

Source: Patrick McGeehan, New York Times, February 27, 2018
The high winds and swirling snow caused Logan, like Kennedy, to shut down for nearly an entire day. But Logan reopened the next morning and operated normally through the weekend — except for having to accommodate six planeloads of passengers diverted there from Kennedy, which remained paralyzed. The first storm of 2018 created such a disaster at Kennedy that a former federal transportation secretary is investigating all that went wrong. At Boston’s international airport, the storm was a one-day event soon to be forgotten. … Why were the experiences at these two major American airports, separated by only about 200 miles, so dramatically different? The answer may be that, though both airports are run by public authorities, they are managed in far disparate ways. At Logan, the Massachusetts Port Authority, known as Massport, maintains near-complete control; at Kennedy, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has shifted much of the management of its terminals to airlines and other private companies, leaving the bulk of the responsibility for dealing with emergencies out of the agency’s hands. …

… Logan, of course, is smaller than Kennedy, and handles only a fraction of the international passengers that Kennedy does. But the responses from officials of the Port Authority in the last several weeks imply that the different management structures of the two airports explain much of the gap in performance. … Speaking to an air-travel industry group in Manhattan recently, the Port Authority’s director of aviation, Huntley Lawrence, admitted that the agency had paid too little attention to passengers. Reflecting back to the 1960s, when the Port Authority first turned management of terminals over to private companies, he said: “No one ever dreamed that meant we would abdicate control of the customer experience at our airports. But we did.” Now, Mr. Lawrence added, according to the text of his speech, “those days are over.” …

HGEA nurses disgruntled over Kaiser management

Source: Melissa Tanji, Maui News, February 22, 2018
The head of about 800 union workers at Maui Memorial Medical Center said Maui Health System officials need “to step up their game” and start fulfilling “the bill of goods” touted by the private entity to improve former public hospitals on Maui. Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, said on Wednesday that in the past several weeks, union hospital workers have been reaching out to the union to express concern about inadequate staffing, mainly nurses, along with not having enough supplies or staff support at Maui’s only acute-care hospital. He reported that employees believe that the July 1 changeover of operations from the quasi-public Hawaii Health Systems Corp. to Kaiser-affiliated Maui Health System at Maui Memorial, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital has not been as rosy as painted recently in the media. …


The neurosurgeon is out
Source: Chris Sugidono, Maui News, February 11, 2018
Maui Health System is in labor negotiations with the Hawaii Government Employees Association and United Public Workers on the unions’ first contract with the new management. HGEA represents 775 nurses and other health care professionals, while UPW has roughly 500 members working in maintenance, food service and laundry.  HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira said in an email that the union’s goal is to ensure the investments from taxpayers and Kaiser “results in the best patient care and services” for Maui County. He added that he would like Kaiser to retain its current employees and recruit highly qualified and experienced “long-term” health care professionals. …

Opinion: Future bright for Maui’s privatized hospitals
Source: Joe Kent, The Maui News, January 21, 2018
One of the biggest savings will likely come from control over labor costs. Previously, the hospitals were left out of negotiations with their union employees; instead, such talks were handled at the state level. Now the Maui Health System can, for the first time, negotiate directly with the United Public Workers and Hawaii Government Employees Association unions. This is expected to result in better use of the hospital staffs and a big cost savings. …

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Cities experiment to reduce homelessness with “pay for success” finance

Source: Carey L. Biron, Reuters, February 1, 2018
Although he had tried to find a home during that time, he was discouraged by the paperwork and process. But shortly after Easter last year, a social worker contacted him and said he had been selected to participate in a new housing program.  “Within two weeks, I had a place to stay,” Cushinberry told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Denver. “They gave me housing first, and then we tried to work out all the other kinks in my life.”  The program is one of a rising number of initiatives around the world bringing together government departments, service providers, foundations, banks, pension funds and more to address complex social problems.  The key innovation is how they these programs are financed.  Rather than rely on handouts by cash-strapped governments, private investors step in to provide money through a financing tool known as a social impact bond. …

Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Could Destroy Our Nation’s Water Systems

Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, January 30, 2018
The draft outline of the zombie infrastructure program has resurfaced again with a leak to Axios—and confirms what many feared: The White House hopes to privatize areas of government at a discount, opening up more public services to abuse at the hands of corporations. Trump plans to expand private-activity bonds for infrastructure construction, “to benefit the public,” with a definition of “public benefit” that’s more solid-gold toilet than Hoover Dam. Exhibit A is the plan to expand private management of our waterways, including efforts to mitigate pollution and environmental harm that tends to result from the same private-sector control. In other words, laundering public money to help corporate America break stuff and then buy it. There’s a heavy focus on funding privately managed road and bridge projects, and goodies like highway-rest-stop commercialization and encouraging private leasing of infrastructure. …


Cashing in on Water Crises: Public-Private Partnerships Are Not the Solution
Source: Julia Kassem, Truthout, January 13, 2018

Across the US, cost-cutting municipalities are looking to private companies and contractors to fix aging infrastructure. However, these privatization practices contribute to increased water bills and jeopardize water quality, endangering one of residents’ most basic needs. We can gain some perspective on the consequences of water privatization by looking to a glaring overseas example: In Lebanon, mismanagement of infrastructure has provided ample opportunity for privatization to proliferate. … The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the privatizing wing of the World Bank Group, continues to invest in water privatization companies such as Veolia, and more recently, SUEZ. The companies are setting their sights on ailing infrastructural systems in the Global South in places like the Arab world, particularly in response to the abandonment of public-private contracts in some large US cities. … In Lebanon and around the world, the basic issues of water quality and safety must find a place in policy-oriented discussions over water. If this occurs, countries and municipalities stand a chance of eschewing private-public partnerships — and ensuring that water is not treated as simply another commodity to be sold.

$300 Billion War Beneath the Street: Fighting to Replace America’s Water Pipes
Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, November 10, 2017
America is facing a crisis over its crumbling water infrastructure, and fixing it will be a monumental and expensive task.  Two powerful industries, plastic and iron, are locked in a lobbying war over the estimated $300 billion that local governments will spend on water and sewer pipes over the next decade. … To more directly reach towns and counties across the country, the plastics industry is also leaning on the American City County Exchange, a new group that gives corporations extraordinary capacity to influence public policy at the city and county levels. The group operates under the auspices of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a wider effort funded by the petrochemicals billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch that has drawn scrutiny for helping corporations and local politicians write legislation behind closed doors. …

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