Accountability and Transparency
• Lack of public information and open records
• Lack of public input on decisions affecting the public interest
• Loss of recourse if the public is harmed
Democratically elected governments are accountable to voters and their processes are open to public scrutiny. Privatization shuts the public out of decision-making that deeply affects the public interest.
Terms of privatization contracts often are decided behind closed doors, without any public input. In some cases, the public is unaware of the possibility of a privatization deal until the contract is almost finalized. A prime example is the privatization of Chicago’s parking meters, which was planned and negotiated without public knowledge, and left the public extremely unhappy with the outcomes.
Transparency also refers to the public’s ability to obtain information regarding government contracts. While government documents generally are available through open records requests, private companies can shield information from public view by claiming it has a proprietary status.
Another important aspect of accountability and transparency relates to the government’s ability to properly manage contracts. Contracts and governmental policy must contain adequate mechanisms for monitoring and oversight to ensure contract compliance and hold contractors accountable for contractual abuses and the failure to deliver on promised deliverables.
In many large complicated contracts, it is difficult to hold companies accountable partly because no one can anticipate all possible contingencies and set consequences, and partly because companies may be able to shield important information from the government. Furthermore, governments that have sunk a lot of time and money into a contractual relationship may choose not to hold the contractor accountable for fear of losing that initial investment or the transaction costs associated with contract cancellation.
As the Blackwater Nisoor Square case shows, it can be difficult for the government to hold a private company accountable for even the most heinous actions. A New York Times editorial titled "Privatized War and Its Price" (January 2010) noted that in dismissing charges against Blackwater agents for killing civilians in Iraq, a federal judge "highlighted the government’s inability to hold mercenaries accountable for crimes they commit."
Since Aramark Correctional Services won a $145-million contract to feed Michigan inmates in December, the corporation has been plagued by instances of misconduct, poor sanitation, and other critical failures that risk the health and safety of inmates and correctional officers alike. Criticism from across the state has grown in recent weeks, and calls to cancel the contract with Aramark and increase transparency in the Department of Corrections have been echoed in at least three Michigan newspapers.Read more »
When charter schools first appeared in the 90’s, they aimed to experiment with innovative educational strategies to later implement in all public schools. Fast forward to today, charters have grown into a national industry with 2.5 million students, 6,000 schools and a growing market of management services, vendors, policy shops, and advocacy organizations that has its sights set on the almost $750 billion spent each year on public education in the U.S.Read more »
“Virtually every major highway project in the Dallas-Fort Worth area involves a tolling component,” according to the Dallas Morning News, and that has elected officials and community activists across the ideological spectrum incensed.Read more »
The for-profit contracting giant Aramark may lose a contract at a Michigan university, and inmates at the Ohio facility where maggots were found in an Aramark kitchen earlier this year are looking to other options for sustenance.Read more »
This weekend marks the unofficial end of summer as well as a chance for us to reflect on the achievements of American workers. This year, workers across the country have a lot to celebrate, thanks in part to a series of executive orders signed by President Obama, including the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, which cracks down on federal contractors who violate labor laws.Read more »
Following the Money 2014: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data
In March, Detroit’s unelected emergency manager Kevyn Orr asked private companies for proposals to manage and operate the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in what would be the country’s largest water privatization deal. This deal would take one of the most basic utilities for survival out of public control.Read more »