Berks County considering privatizing its prison

Source: Ben Allen, WITF, July 13, 2017
 
A midstate county may need a new prison soon, and one of its leaders is considering working with a private operator. Berks County Commissioner Mark Scott says he’s been talking with one of the major players… A new prison could cost more than $100 million. But Commissioner Mark Scott says working with a private prison company could cut those costs and speed up the construction process. …

America’s public housing crisis may worsen with Trump budget

Source: Lawrence Vale, Associated Press, July 12, 2017
 
… As someone who has spent 25 years researching and writing about the travails of public housing in the U.S., I had this immediate thought: Could the same thing happen here?  Various commentators have pointed out that American regulations require sprinklers and do not permit the use of cladding materials with combustible plastic cores in high-rise structures.  Yet while the facades of American public housing may be less flammable, the system suffers from a toxic convergence of long-deferred maintenance, squeezed budgets and cost-cutting measures. Privatization policies, deeply rooted suspicions about the character of public housing residents and long-term inattention all threaten the capacity of stigmatized low-income families to remain in their homes. …

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Ben Carson reckons with proposed HUD budget cuts
Source: Jonathan Easley, The Hill, June 30, 2017

… Now, as HUD secretary, Carson controls the $46 billion government agency that oversees housing for the poor. President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would cut HUD spending by $6 billion. “We will use whatever resources we have very efficiently,” Carson said. “The other thing to keep in mind is that the traditional view of HUD and government is we ride in on a white horse with a bucket of money … and go off to the next thing,” he continued. “That particular model has led us to the point where we have three to four times as many people in need of affordable housing and it’s getting worse.” Carson, who had no experience in government before becoming HUD secretary, is grappling with decisions about which programs to keep, which to shutter, and how to improve the ones that remain. …

Carson: HUD will focus on public, private sectors partnerships
Source: Mallory Shelbourne, The Hill, April 26, 2017

Ben Carson, President Trump’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), said in a new interview that his forthcoming agenda will promote partnerships between the public and private sectors.   “The biggest tools are the partnerships — public, private, nonprofit and faith community partnerships — which allow us to leverage those federal dollars …” Carson told The Associated Press in an interview published Wednesday. …  

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This Is How the Trump Administration Will Privatize Our Infrastructure

Source: David Dayen, The Nation, June 20, 2017
 
North Miami Beach’s Norwood water treatment plant is a major source of revenue, serving a region with almost five times as many customers as city residents…. Critics, including plant employees and members of the local Public Utilities Commission, blamed the city for intentional lack of investment and reduced staffing. “It’s on the city workers somehow that the system has fallen into disrepair,” said a spokesman with AFSCME Florida. “If you’re a journalist, and the newspaper is not making money, is that on you?” … As for plant workers, they could lose benefits under CH2M immediately, since the city’s contract with AFSCME expired in 2015. The CH2M contract calls for $2.4 million in annual savings in labor costs starting in year two. And with a fixed fee for operations and maintenance, CH2M can only extract profits and deliver long-term cost savings by cutting corners. …

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North Miami Beach Gives Public Water Utility Serving 180,000 People to Private Firm
Source: Jerry Ianelli, Miami New Times, May 17, 2017
 
None of those facts stopped the North Miami Beach City Commission last night from voting 4 to 2 to outsource its public water utility to global engineering firm CH2M Hill. From here on out, the company will control virtually every operational facet of a water plant that serves more than 180,000 people in North Miami Beach, Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach, and Miami Gardens. … On April 3, the city held a special meeting to begin formal negotiations with CH2M. In the leadup to that meeting, the city’s municipal worker’s union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, spoke out against the privatization plan as an attempt at union-busting. The ASFCME warned that privatization deals tend to lead to job or benefits cuts to workers.  Though the final contract guarantees that all city workers who pass a drug test and physical must be rehired by CH2M, the contract does not say what will happen to those workers in the following years. (During that April 3 meeting, multiple city workers accused the government of willfully underfunding the plant to create an excuse to privatize it.) …

North Miami Beach to Vote on Privatizing Its Water System Tomorrow Despite FBI Probe
Source: Jerry Iannelli, Miami New Times, May 15, 2017
 
On April 3, the City of North Miami Beach started negotiating with a global engineering firm to take over the city’s water utility, which services close to 200,000 people in north Dade. Clean-water activists vehemently opposed the move, citing research that water utilities run by private companies tend to get much more expensive over time, and typically provide services at “cheaper” rates by cutting staff or services. … But those facts have not mattered at all to North Miami Beach’s elected officials. Tomorrow, the city commission will vote on whether to hand the utility’s operations over to CH2M Hill Engineering for an annual fee of $18.8 million per year. (The city would retain ownership of the utility, but CH2M would handle the plant’s day-to-day operations. The city will also pay CH2M $19.3 million in the first year to cover startup costs.) …

North Miami Beach Moves Forward With Water-Privatization Deal Despite FBI Probe
Source: Jerry Iannelli, Miami New Times, April 4, 2017

At the beginning of North Miami Beach’s meeting last night about a plan to privatize its water system, City Manager Ana Garcia asked residents to trust the city based on the commission’s track record. That was an odd appeal, considering Mayor George Vallejo is the subject of an ongoing Miami-Dade County criminal probe and the FBI and Miami-Dade County Public Corruption unit have launched investigations into the water negotiations. Despite all of those red flags, commissioners voted 4-2 last night to move forward with the plan after a testy meeting that lasted close to three hours. … The city also did not disclose that an affiliate of the leading company bidding for the project, global engineering firm CH2M Hill, has held a temporary contract to operate portions of the plant since October 17, 2016. The contract raises additional questions as to whether the city’s bidding process has been fair. … The vote authorizes the city to begin negotiating a contract with CH2M, which is angling to take over the full operation of the city’s water plant.

… Per the terms of the city’s request for quotation, the private company is expected to take over full plant operations and take over the contracts of every employee at the utility. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a union that represents the utility workers, says roughly 80 employees could be affected. The union warned last week that privatization deals tend to lead to benefit cutbacks and employee layoffs as the new company tries to cut costs. AFSCME does not have an active contract with the city, and union representatives warned last week that, without a contract, a private company could cut benefits and salaries from day one. …

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Authorization To Fix The Crumbling BQE Faster Stalls In Albany

Source: Emma Whitford, Gothamist, July 12, 2017
 
Legislation that the Department of Transportation predicted could shave years and millions of dollars off of critical Brooklyn Queens Expressway repairs floundered in Albany this session, to the frustration of local politicians, policy groups, labor unions, pro-business groups, and residents who live alongside the decaying BQE triple cantilever in Brooklyn Heights. … There is a basic resistance in Albany, and upstate generally, to what is considered privatization of the state contracting process,” she added. “The main opposition comes from public service unions that are concerned about their jobs somehow disappearing or being diminished.” (“We wanted to ensure that men and women in the state workforce, who are perfectly trained and qualified to do the work, didn’t lose their jobs because of design build outsourcing,” stated Emily Cote, director of communications for the Civil Service Employees Association.) …

Lawmakers Aim to Restrict Use of Lowest-Price Contracts

Source: Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, July 10, 2017
 
A contractors group has welcomed a bipartisan House bill placed in the hopper last month aimed at curbing agency use of lowest price technically acceptable contracts.  The Promoting Value Based Procurement Act (H.R. 3019), introduced by Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Don Beyer, D-Va., would amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation to require civilian agencies to align themselves with the Defense Department and stiffen their rationales for resorting to lowest price technically acceptable contracts, which have grown in use in recent years but are controversial. …

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The Challenge of Applying the LPTA Process to the Procurement of Complex Services

Source: TASC, Inc., 2012

From the press release:
Increased reliance by government customers on the Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) acquisition strategy poses unnecessary risks such as budget overruns, delivery delays and, in the worst cases, mission failure. According to a new report by TASC, Inc., the LPTA process can be appropriate for commoditized services with clearly defined requirements, but not for complex services that support sophisticated, high-risk missions. In cases where the government does elect to use the LPTA process, it should rigorously define and evaluate technical acceptability and past performance to avoid compromising the performance of the program or system and, ultimately, the success of the mission….

…The TASC report makes the case that using the LPTA approach in the acquisition of complex mission services can compromise mission success and increase total program costs over time when factoring in rework and related costs. To achieve the best value, TASC recommends that solicitations for complex services adopt a classic best-value, cost-technical tradeoff approach that considers innovation, scheduling rigor and program cost containment. When the government does use the LPTA process, technical and past performance requirements should be defined precisely. In addition, applying detailed technical criteria using scenario-based evaluations, high standards of past performance and price-realism analyses are essential to mitigate the risk of unsuccessful performance on a given contract solicited on an LPTA basis. The TASC report offers examples of solicitations that utilize these recommendations….

Trump changes higher ed with rollback of Obama-era consumer protections

Source: Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Washington Post, July 9, 2017
 
Step by step, the Trump administration is walking back policies and rules in higher education that its predecessor said were needed to protect students who rely on federal funding to pursue a degree. … Through the first half of the year, the department led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has withdrawn, delayed or announced plans to revamp more than a half dozen Obama-era measures involving federal student aid. …

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Betsy DeVos delays 2 Obama-era rules designed to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges
Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, June 14, 2017
 
The Trump administration is suspending two key rules from the Obama administration that were intended to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges, saying it will soon start the process to write its own regulations.  The move made Wednesday by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was a victory for Republican lawmakers and for-profit colleges that had lobbied against the rules. Critics denounced it, accusing the administration of essentially selling out students to help for-profit colleges stay in business.

Trump’s Administration Is Making It Easier for For-Profit Colleges to Screw Over More Students
Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, March 31, 2017
 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s controversial pick for a special assistant—for-profit college corporate lawyer Robert Eitel, may be a portent. As counsel for Bridgepoint, the parent company of the now-tainted brands of Ashford University and University of the Rockies, was forced by the Obama administration last year to refund $24 million in tuition and debt costs to students, plus civil damages, after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that its heavy marketing scheme for its online programs, and “deceived its students into taking out loans that cost more than advertised.” …

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Trump’s air traffic overhaul faces bumpy skies

Source: Brianna Gurciullo and Lauren Gardner, Politico, July 9, 2017
 
A month after Trump offered his public support in a White House speech, the proposal to split up the Federal Aviation Administration still faces opposition from rural interests, small-plane owners and key Republicans in Congress, where the to-do list for returning lawmakers is piled high with big tasks like repealing Obamacare and rewriting the tax code.

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AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders on FAA Privatization Bill
Source: AFSCME Press Release, June 23, 2017
 
AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders issued the following statement on the FAA privatization bill released Thursday: “AFSCME is strongly opposed to inefficient and risky efforts to privatize the nation’s air traffic control operations. Air traffic safety must be our chief concern and that requires responsible governmental control and continued strong oversight. AFSCME cannot support the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation now pending in the House of Representatives. “The bill, as introduced, has the potential to threaten safe and efficient air travel for many Americans, to significantly weaken the economy, and to harm the committed federal workforce that is dedicated to the safe and efficient aviation all Americans deserve and expect. Congress must reject this risky plan.”

House unveils latest bill to privatize air-traffic control
Source: Bart Jansen, USA Today, June 21, 2017
 
A House chairman unveiled his latest proposal Wednesday to move air-traffic control out of the Federal Aviation Administration and to a non-profit corporation governed by industry stakeholders, setting off a contentious debate that will play out through the fall.  Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said the change would allow faster, more efficient modernization of the system from ground-based radar to satellite-based GPS. Strong support from President Trump and airlines, along with changes to the corporation’s board and for general-aviation, improved the bill’s chances from a similar proposal last year, he said.

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Did Miami’s biggest developer avoid labor taxes? The feds are investigating.

Source: Nicholas Nehamas, Miami Herald, July 6, 2017

Federal investigators are seeking to learn if the Related Group, Miami’s biggest developer, lowered costs on an affordable-housing project by hiring subcontractors who failed to pay employment taxes, the Miami Herald has learned. … Related’s business practices are under scrutiny because of a long-running federal investigation into South Florida’s affordable-housing industry. … Even so, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and IRS are investigating the project’s cost structure to determine if Related padded bills and hung onto profits illegally, violations which could bring criminal charges, sources said. Prosecutors have already successfully targeted three other affordable-housing developers in Miami-Dade — Carlisle Development GroupBiscayne Housing Group and Pinnacle Housing Group — that used federal tax credits. The new investigation focuses on whether developers misused county funds.

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Miami Developer in Hot Seat Over Low-Income Housing Fraud
Source: Samantha Joseph, Daily Business Review, March 21, 2017

A South Florida developer is in the hot seat after an uptick in fraud among developers using government credits to fund low-income housing ventures grabbed prosecutors’ attention. Pinnacle Housing Group Inc. affiliate DAXC LLC is accused of inflating construction costs to gain about $4.2 million from low-income apartment complexes in Miami, Sunrise, Homestead and Winter Haven. It paid $5.2 million, including forfeiture, and a $1 million fine to the federal government under a deferred prosecution agreement released Monday. Pinnacle’s affiliated contractor solicited bids for concrete shell work for housing developments from 2009 to 2011. It received final bids from a subcontractor to build the concrete structures, but instead of signing contracts with that company, it entered agreements with DAXC at rates of up to $1.5 million above the bids. DAXC in turn paid the subcontractor at the lower rates, making net profits of about $3.1 million. … The apartments rose during the housing market collapse, when contractors tasked with creating concrete shells often went out of business, leaving developers on the hook for stranded projects. Pinnacle’s use of DAXC as a middleman might have been part of a strategy to shield the developer from potential liens. The company has developed more than 8,500 affordable housing units over about 20 years in business. …

Social Impact Bonds wrong direction for Manitoba’s social services

Source: CUPE, July 6, 2017

Today the Manitoba government announced the opening of a request for proposals for Social Impact Bonds, a scheme in which private companies profit off social service delivery. “There was a time when the private sector would simply make philanthropic donations as part of their corporate responsibility to the community” says Terry Egan, President of CUPE Manitoba. “Social Impact Bonds take that corporate philanthropy and turn it into a private money‑making scheme.” While Pallister claims that Social Impact Bonds would foster “private-sector innovation,” these companies will seek to invest in only the non‑government agencies that would see profitable outcomes, rather than programs that seek to address long‑term root causes of many of societies deep and complex issues, including poverty. …

Oregon hired a company to paint the Ross Island Bridge without knowing its safety record. Then a worker fell.

Source: Gordon R. Friedman, The Oregonian, July 6, 2017
 
The Oregon Department of Transportation’s method for vetting contractors leaves the state open to hiring companies with troubling safety records, a review by The Oregonian/OregonLive has found. That’s exactly what happened when the department hired Abhe & Svoboda Inc. to repaint the Ross Island Bridge this year. Officials at the agency said when they chose the firm, they knew nothing of its safety history. The company’s track record includes accidents that killed and injured workers who were not wearing fall protection gear. Also on its record are repeated failures, as recently as 2011, to outfit bridge painters with adequate safety harnesses, safety records show. … Before awarding contracts, department officials don’t check publicly available online Occupational Safety & Health Administration records showing safety violations, workplace injuries and deaths from every state. Running such a check on Abhe & Svoboda takes minutes and shows violations from around the country spanning decades. …