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In the Public Interest’s weekly privatization report

1) National/California: Starting today, Operation Streamline, the rapid conveyor-belt federal process for criminalizing immigrants, will be expanded to the Southern District of California. This will further fill the coffers of the private prison companies and other for-profit contractors who deal with ICE, the Bureau of Prisons, and U.S. Marshals Service.

“Immigrants arrested at the California border will be driven to a converted garage in the basement of the Edward J. Schwartz Federal Office Building in downtown San Diego, according to a plan devised by prosecutors and sh­ared with defense attorneys. The immigrants will meet quickly with their attorneys before being taken across the plaza to the federal courthouse. Up to a dozen of them will appear together in the courtroom, most likely in chains, wearing headsets from which they will hear a translation of the proceedings. They will be charged individually with illegal entry, most likely plead guilty, and be sentenced, all within just a few minutes. (…) And there are consequences for pleading guilty: Immigrants who do so could face felony charges if they are re-arrested for the same offense, which carries a potential sentence of years in federal prison.” Protesters have disrupted arraignments of immigrants.

2) National: The federal process for disposing of the cases of other migrants detained by HHS seems to involve slightly more time and individualized consideration, for example the opportunity that one-year-olds are given in immigration court to explain themselves to a judge before being handed back to HHS and its private contractors. Regarding the private “shelter contactors,” the New York Times tried to find out what is going on regarding services, “but many declined to comment, including Shiloh Treatment Center and two of the biggest providers, Southwest Key and BCFS.”

3) National: MVM Inc., the Virginia-based military company that “has been a major contractor for ICE and the U.S. Marshals for years,” has been caught keeping detained migrant kids in a vacant Phoenix office building, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal News reports. “Videos shot by an alarmed neighbor show children dressed in sweatsuits being led—one so young she was carried—into the 3,200-square-foot building in early June. The building is not licensed by Arizona to hold children, and the contractor, MVM Inc., has claimed publicly that it does not operate ‘shelters or any other type of housing’ for children. (…) It is not listed among shelters operating through the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement or on the state child care licensing website. ”

Stories of horrific abuse of migrants are emerging by the hour. “Caceras said she was separated from her son for roughly 12 weeks before they were reunited. ‘He continued to cry when we got home and would hold on to my leg and would not let me go,’ Caceras said in her testimony, as reported by PBS. ‘When I took off his clothes, he was full of dirt and lice.’ ‘It seems like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us,’ she added.”

There may be some buck-passing going on. PBS “asked all the government agencies involved to respond, and they said they aren’t going to respond now to this ongoing litigation. The department—the homeland—HHS secretary told me on the phone, he said, hey, be careful. You know, we don’t know if these are all HHS facilities.” [See the state attorney generals’ court complaint against HHS]. The Texas Civil Rights Project has denounced HHS for its policy of secrecy: “We cannot and do not accept such secrecy from our government during this human rights crisis. This administration must inform the American people how they plan to reunite every family, including those who were deported without their loved ones, and they must terminate their plans for further detaining families.”

4) National: ICE has provided a useful short form website of their contractors’ FOIA documents. First on the list, MVM Inc.’s 258-page rather illegible entry. Also includes documents covering BI Incorporated, South Texas Family Residential Center, Palantir, GEO Group, and SI International.

5) National: In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler discussed ITPI’s new report on how private prison corporations are primed to cash in on Trump’s immigration executive order on By Any Means Necessary (at 9:00).

6) National: The Partnership for Working Families and the Action Center on Race & the Economy have released a new report detailing how hate and racist groups continue to sell materials through Amazon. Mariah Montgomery, campaign director of the Partnership for Working Families, told the Washington Post “It’s clear that Amazon is bringing in money by propping up these hate organizations and allowing them to spread these messages in a moment of rising white nationalism and violence.”

Amazon is currently facing public pressure to involve local communities in their negotiations with various cities over siting their new second headquarters. PWF and ACRE say “hate movements are resurgent in the U.S. and around the globe. Amazon must take a public stand against hate and violence, and take action to ensure that it is not profiting from hate or enabling others to profit from hate. Across its platforms, Amazon has the right to determine what it sells, publishes, and helps to deliver online. As a wealthy corporation, it has the resources to ensure its policies are enforced. Amazon has an ethical and moral responsibility to stop delivering hate to the world.”

The New Republic, commenting on the PWF/ACRE report
, says “the efforts to remove Nazis and white supremacists from social media platforms have largely been inadequate. Amazon’s problem is of a smaller scale, but it’s still very important. As with Twitter and Facebook, more investment in monitoring the products for sale is necessary. That requires hiring monitors, something that these tech companies are not always eager to do.” Last year, Amazon generated $177.9 billion in revenue and its net income grew 27.8% to $3.03 billion from $2.37 billion in 2016.

7) National: The #FamiliesBelongTogether Corporate Accountability Committee (In the Public Interest, LittleSis, ACRE, Color of Change, NDWA, AVAAZ, Presente, MomsRising, and Enlace) is circulating a petition to demand that Wells Fargo “stop helping separate immigrant families” through their “role in financing CoreCivic and GEO Group, two large for-profit prison corporations that are profiting off the separation and pain of families. Private prison companies hold contracts to operate hundreds of prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers across the country that are being used to incarcerate and separate families.”

8) National: Sludge has a very useful spreadsheet and map showing “Who Is Making Money from ICE in Your State?” It lists transactions of ongoing ICE contracts as of 7/5/2018. Topping the list are GEO Group and MVM. “Maryland-based Maxim Healthcare Services had the third-highest total ($71 million), followed by the U.S. branch of consulting firm Deloitte, the recipient of enormous contracts for various management and support services totaling over $58 million.”

9) National: The boosterism around “social impact bonds” continues despite longstanding and recent criticism. As In the Public Interest has pointed out in a report, there’s no free lunch. Although advocates of Pay for Success (PFS) or Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) serve up this alternative private financing model as a cost-free, risk-free silver bullet to support critical, yet underfunded, public services, a closer examination is warranted. Writing recently in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Michael J. Roy, Neil McHugh, and Stephen Sinclair said “there are significant technical challenges to overcome in setting up and operating SIBs, which advocates insufficiently acknowledge. More substantively, however, SIBs fundamentally change the nature of public and social services, effectively reducing citizens to commodities.”

10) National: The Texas Tribune reports that detained migrant parents are getting soaked by for-profit companies when they call their family members. Bianca Tylek, founder of the New York-based Corrections Accountability Project, tells the Tribune the companies are generating revenue on the backs of “people who are incarcerated or detained, largely people with very few resources. At the same time, they are charging exorbitant rates.” ICE “houses detained immigrants in local jails, federal prisons or privately operated facilities, like the IAH Secure Adult Detention Center outside Houston, which is run by Management and Training Corporation. Though the agency cannot accept commissions on services it pays for, state and local facilities ICE contracts with to house immigrant detainees can. The payment structure of some publicly available contracts—for facilities not operated by ICE—contain provisions guaranteeing hefty commission rates that critics like Tylek liken to kickbacks.” CenturyLink, a $21 billion company that provides communication services to state inmates, has seen its stock price almost double over the past year. Its earnings call is on August 8.

11) National: Contractor oversight and budget planning are serious businesses. As the debate on the future of ICE, a significant contractor with private, for-profit companies continues, here’s some background on its complicated and troubled origins. Recent events have shown that the interagency chaos some predicted has materialized. Just in the past year, ICE broke contracting rules in establishing its largest detention facility (South Texas Family Residential Center), and then “abruptly canceled a solicitation for a private sector partner to help it hire thousands of deportation officers and support personnel, citing delays in obtaining the requisite funding.” Government Executive has slammed the scramble to reunite immigrant kids with their families as “a case study in poor project management.” One former DHS official who worked with the George W. Bush administration told Quartz “there is no one in charge of the crisis.”

12) National: The Wall Street Journal has joined in to report (on p. A3) that Trump’s draconian crackdown on migrants and asylum seekers “has brightened the outlook” for GEO Group and CoreCivic. “So far this year, Geo’s shares are up 14%, while CoreCivic’s have risen 4.8%, according to FactSet. (…) The share of CoreCivic’s revenue from ICE has risen to 25% in 2017 from 13% in 2007, while for Geo Group, the share expanded to 24% last year from 10% a decade earlier, according to the companies. The rest comes from operating federal and state prisons as well as other sources. (…) Between Oct. 1 and June 17, the U.S. Border Patrol arrested roughly 273,000 people, a 17% increase over the year-earlier period, according to government data obtained by The Wall Street Journal.” [Sub required]

13) National/Iowa/Missouri/Kentucky: Centene, the healthcare outsourcing company selected to help manage Iowa’s controversial privatized Medicaid system, is still coining money as the questions mount up. On Friday its stock hit a 52-week high on the back of news that the company bought out Fidelis Care and notched up a contract with the New Hampshire Department of Corrections. @VirvusJ alleges that “While Kentucky & other states are requiring people who get Medicaid to work, Centene, the Medicaid poverty pimp made 40 billion+ processing Medicaid payments & paid their CEO 21 million last year. Reverse Bootstraps.” The Des Moines Register found that “at least 300 sanctions have been levied against Centene and its subsidiaries since 2013, including failing to promptly pay medical claims. The company’s Iowa subsidiary self-reported $23.6 million in penalties or lost incentives to the company and its subsidiaries.” (See more on Centene below)

14) National: The Trump infrastructure plan is still dead, but public interest aficionados may want to keep an eye on Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist Trump picked to replace Scott Pruitt at EPA, who resigned in disgrace last week. E&E News reported a while back that Wheeler had a role in shaping Trump’s infrastructure approach, part of which involved weakening or gutting NEPA environmental approval procedures for infrastructure projects. “While negotiations are in the early stages, a firm infrastructure plan—one that would make its way through Congress—would likely involve key agencies pitching in selling pieces of the package.” E&E News reported in January that “sources said they are watching officials like Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt and R.D. James, the new head of the Army Corps of Engineers. They also pointed to EPA staffers working on NEPA, CEQ staff like Ted Boling focused on NEPA reforms, Andrew Wheeler, Trump’s nominee to be EPA’s deputy administrator, and Jeffrey Rosen, the Interior Department’s deputy secretary.”

Earthjustice is currently butting heads with the Trump administration
 on new NEPA regulations. “Environmentalists fear that even apparently reasonable changes to the NEPA regulations could be co-opted by bad-faith political forces in the Trump administration.”

15) National/International: A consortium of primarily Canadian companies has been selected to construct the Gordie Howe International Bridge, a proposed Detroit River ‘public-private partnership’ project that has been tied up in controversy and litigation for years, not least by opposition from the private owners of a competing bridge. A team of companies consisting of ACS Infrastructure Canada, Fluor Canada, and Dragados Canada will lead the years-long construction. AECOM, the Los Angeles-based infrastructure construction firm, is also part of the team. “The total cost of the project and timeline for construction will not be announced until the bridge authority signs a contract with the companies by the end of September, said Heather Grondin, vice president of communications and stakeholder relations for the WDBA.”

16) National: Demoralized federal prison officers feel left behind by “law and order” Trump, the Huffington Post reports. “Some BOP employees worry the budget cuts are part of an administration plan to expand the privatization of federal incarceration. A 2016 report by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog found that privately run facilities were more dangerous than federally run prisons and needed more oversight. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed Obama-era restrictions on the Justice Department’s use of private prisons early on in the Trump administration.”

17) National/Pennsylvania: Colin Deppen and Sarah Anne Hughes at BILLYPEN report that pressure is mounting on Gov. Tom Wolf (D) to close the Berks County family detention center. “Advocates for immigrants, who have been trying to shut down the Berks County Residential Facility for much of its two decades of existence, are hoping the moment of collective outrage spurs legislators to act—and it appears they may be getting somewhere.” On June 21, the Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution calling on Wolf to issue an emergency removal order to clear the facility.

Here’s another Berks-related item courtesy of Jeffrey St. Clair: “The kids at Mighty Writers’ El Futuro branch, an after-school writing academy in South Philly, had a great idea: collect Spanish language children’s books and deliver them to the kids locked up in immigration detention centers. They got a grant to buy 700 books, most of them for the Berks Detention Center 75 miles north of Philly. The Mighty Writers packed the books in boxes and were prepared to deliver them, when ICE rang up to reject the offer. No explanation given. This is cruelty as policy.”

18) California/National: After briefly licking their wounds over their sharp defeat in the California Democratic primary, and even reportedly sending feelers out to a aggrieved Gavin Newsom, the big money charter backers are weighing into some key governors races. “Last week, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs donated $29,200 each—the maximum amount—to Democrat Gavin Newsom’s campaign for California governor,” Associated Press reports. “It’s a sign that the potent charter forces in Golden State politics are pivoting toward the state’s lieutenant governor, who is widely considered a shoo-in to beat Republican businessman John Cox.” And meanwhile in Colorado the “governor’s race has a pro-charter school candidate who also doubles as a philanthropist invested in education reform. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis became the Democratic candidate for governor after dropping $12 million of his own money into his campaign.”

19) Colorado: The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority is having another try at finding a contractor to build and operate a 9.2 mile toll road as a ‘public-private partnership.’ “The project’s small size, about $250 million, accelerated schedule, limited public funding, and permitting issues with three federal agencies will not deter potential bidders, Ernst & Young opined in an April ‘feasibility discussion’ of P3 delivery. E&Y predicted ‘several proposer teams’ would compete for a long term concession.” [Public Works Financing, June 2018; sub required]

20) Colorado: The Denver Eagle P3 commuter rail project has still not cleared its regulatory hurdles. “Lingering concerns about variances in warning times at gated crossings have not been resolved to the satisfaction of the Federal Railroad Administration and Colorado Public Utility Commission.” [Public Works Financing, June 2018; sub required]

21) District of ColumbiaAn ongoing legal battle between unionized teachers at Chavez Prep Middle School in Northwest D.C. and their charter school escalated on Friday. “The union filed a new unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, this time naming TenSquare Group, a charter school consulting firm, a joint-employer of the school. This is the fourth charge the union has filed against the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School network since August, but the first time TenSquare has also been named liable.” See also Washington City Paper’s in-depth look at “the Consulting Firm Raking In Millions From D.C. Charter Schools.” A trial before an administrative law judge to address all the union allegations found meritorious is scheduled for July 24.

22) Florida: The owner of a nursing home where 12 elderly patients died during Hurricane Irma last September wants to open a charter school. “South Floridians were not stunned to learn that the doctor who owned the facility, Jack Michel, had a history of fraud complaints. (…) Last March, the Biscayne Times chronicled how Michel had let the once-gleaming [Admiral Vee Motel] property decay. But recently, someone has slapped spiffy new signs on the side of the building advertising the ‘Larkin School for the Health Sciences,’ a charter school serving kids from grades 6 through 8. The signs say the school will open in next month.”

23) Illinois: One in four Chicago schools have failed inspections for cleanliness. “Just ahead of the July 4 holiday, CPS released school-by-school summary results of inspections by central office staffers and employees of Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, which have major contracts to clean and oversee facilities services in the school system. (…) CPS also is privatizing its school engineers. Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse Sharkey said, ‘Predictably, the mayor tried to sweep this evidence under the rug, as he does with every scandal in the schools he runs.’”

24) Indiana: At the same time Indianapolis Public Schools is closing campuses, a fast-growing charter network “is starting a high school—just blocks from the just-closed John Marshall building on the city’s far-east side. (…) Phalen Leadership Academy will add ninth grade to its middle-school campus, with the ultimate aim of creating a full high school, said founder Earl Phalen. (…) Now, the district is facing a paradox: Low enrollment led the school board to close half its high schools over two years in an effort to save money and improve the academic offerings at the remaining four centrally located campuses. But closing neighborhood high schools at the geographic fringes could expose IPS to more competition for families who no longer live near a district school.”

25) Iowa: The state’s new private Medicaid manager has paid millions of dollars in fines in other states, the Des Moines Register reports. “Iowa Total Care, a subsidiary of Centene, was awarded a state Medicaid contract in May by the Iowa Department of Human Services despite scoring nearly 14 points lower on its evaluation than when it had applied and was rejected in 2015, public records show. But with only two companies bidding for the work, Iowa Total Care won a spot managing Iowa’s annual $4.8 billion Medicaid program. (…) ‘If history teaches us anything, then this is an indication that we’re in more trouble,’ said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, a privatized Medicaid critic whose grown daughter is disabled and uses the program. (…) At least 300 of the sanctions levied against Centene and its subsidiaries since 2013 have resulted in fines or reduced pay in more than a dozen states, the Register found. Twenty-eight of those fines cost the company $100,000 or more, records obtained by the Register show.”

26) Maryland/District of Columbia: It seems industry leaders think Gov. Hogan’s murky plans for a $7.5 billion P3 megaproject to build express toll lanes on I-495 and I-270 is pie in the sky, and would need to be cut into pieces to have any chance of working. Industry veteran Sidney Florey, the North American Business Development Director for VINCI Concessions, told a recent conference “I don’t think the industry can handle  a project of that size.” He said the pieces would have to cost no more than $2 billion, and that “I don’t think going beyond that size can work.” [Public Works Financing, June 2018; sub required]. So much for the unlimited “dry powder” of idle capital often touted by P3 boosters.

27) Missouri: The Advisor Committee to review proposals to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport will hold its first meeting this Wednesday. “The request for proposals, review and approval process is expected to take 18 to 24 months. The process has already been delayed by political maneuvers on the committee to select the advisors and it’s likely to hit more turbulence in the months ahead. In the past week, two separate efforts to challenge the privatization process have emerged. Both are working toward a city-wide vote on a final airport privatization proposal—if and when—the Advisor Team presents a plan to the city.”

28) Missouri/National: A federal appeals court judge has ruled that charter school parents have standing to intervene in a lawsuit that may threaten their schools’ funding, reversing a previous district court decision. “The lawsuit is one that St. Louis Public Schools launched in April 2016 to reclaim more than $50 million in desegregation funding that has gone to charter schools since 2006. Two charter school parents, LeDiva Pierce and Ken Ross Jr., then filed a motion to intervene in the case in May 2016. They argued that if a judge rules in St. Louis Public Schools’ favor, it would likely mean that tens of millions of dollars would be stripped from charter schools, possibly forcing the closure of some.”

Legislative Issues

1) National: With the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency under fire, funding the agency through the current budget is going to become a hot issue, and soon. Private prison companies will no doubt be watching like hawks. “Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), the second-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said the ICE funding debate will be split into four categories: increased funding for ICE agents; more funding for detention beds; funding for construction and infrastructure; and funding for alternatives to detention. Cuellar said bipartisan support should be relatively easy to find for construction and alternatives to detention—for instance, ankle bracelets for people awaiting immigration hearings. ‘But the two fights are detention and ICE agents,’ said Cuellar.”

2) National: Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to give President Trump broad authority to reorganize the government as he sees fit, including consolidating, transferring, abolishing or creating agencies. “The 2018 Reforming Government Act seeks to start the process for Trump to implement the proposals the White House unveiled last week in its reorganization plan, which included 32 distinct recommendations for reshaping an array of federal agencies. (…) Trump would still need to send his formal proposals to lawmakers, who would then have 90 days to approve them. If they took no action, the plans would not advance. The president would have two years to officially send his suggestions to Congress.”

3) National: The privatization industry wants to get its hands on federal agriculture money, partly by throwing farmers—who would see their subsidies slashed and the money sluiced off to a pet Republican lawmaker-created “nonprofit”—under the bus. “As the bill continues to make its way through Congress, lawmakers should prioritize funding for research and development programs and private-public partnerships, rather than double down on our broken farm-subsidy system,” writes Caroline Kitchensof the Searle, Google and Walton-funded R Street Institute, a member the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and State Policy Network.

 

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