Cozy Ties

In the battle to privatize welfare services in Texas, corporate bidders have enlisted some inside help

"That's a confidential document," said Colleen Daly, director of the state systems approvals division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, when asked for a copy of the "request for offerings" which details which Texas programs will be up for bids. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the DHHS released just 15 of 686 pages relating to the Texas request for offerings that the Clinton administration subsequently rejected, claiming the bulk of the records contain "proprietary" and "confidential" information.

According to Bower, the Council on Competitive Government denied public input at vendor forums designed to help private companies prepare their bid proposals. "They established a room that members of the public don't have access to," he says. "It's like a chapter of 1984 that George Orwell never got around to writing."

Levy claims that the secrecy was a ploy to skirt opposition. "Nobody can get access to see what they're having these companies such as Lockheed bid on. The bids are private, but usually what's not private is what you're asking people to bid on, and that's what's so frustrating. We're talking about billions of dollars here, and the secrecy is outrageous."

Levy says the legislative oversight provided by the new law marks a "victory for people who are advocates of public decision-making and public accountability" and should put an end to the backroom deals. "Whereas before you had Lockheed and the governor working behind the scenes where nobody had access," Levy adds, "you now have public access. It's not going to be the governor and his boys behind closed doors."

But the new law is not a panacea for concerns about layoffs and outsourcing, Levy cautions. "There's nothing they [privatization promoters] couldn't do before that they can't do now." The agenda remains, as Levy puts it, "to transfer the money from workers and people receiving benefits to the coffers of these corporations."

(Christopher Cook is a freelance reporter who has written for the Christian Science Monitor, the Nation and In These Times.)

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