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Weekly Privatization Report 2-21-2017

1) NationalMcClatchy DC reports that the Trump administration has prepared new executive orders that would set in train a massive immigrant deportation campaign by the federal government, which would financially benefit the private detention-for-profit industry and other contractors. The memo implementing the executive order on “public safety” says (p. 9):

“Accordingly, the Director of ICE and the Commissioner of [Customs and Border Protection] should take all necessary action and allocate all available resources to expand their detention capabilities and capacities at or near the border with Mexico to the greatest extent practicable. CBP shall focus these actions on expansion of ‘short-term detention’ (defined as 72 hours or less under 6 U.S.C. § 21 l(m)) capability, and ICE will focus these actions on expansion of all other detention capabilities. CBP and ICE should also explore options for joint temporary structures that meet appropriate standards for detention given the length of stay in those facilities.” [Emphasis added]

Yesterday Democracy Now! interviewed Franco Ordoñez, the White House correspondent for the McClatchy Washington Bureau, on the DHS memos. [Video]

2) National: GEO Group, the for-profit prison and immigration detention company, is ramping up its lines of influence into the Trump administration. Last week they hired a new lobbying firm, Ballard Partners, which “will advise and advocate for client on general government and judicial policies.” The firm is headed by Brian Ballard, whose shop bio says he “was an integral player in the President’s successful Florida campaign serving as Chairman of Trump Victory and leading the campaign’s finance efforts in Florida. Brian also had the honor of serving a as a member of the Electoral College casting his vote for President Trump. The President-elect appointed Brian to serve as Vice Chairman of the Inaugural Committee and as a member of the Presidential Transition Finance Committee.”

3) National: GEO Group will announce its fourth quarter 2016 financial results tomorrow morning, and will hold a conference call at 11 am eastern.

4) NationalGEO Group and CoreCivic have lost their bid to keep proprietary business information from being released. “The Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights sued the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the FOIA seeking a raft of documents on detention policy. The civil liberties groups allege that the government has misinterpreted a funding requirement to provide 34,000 immigration beds at any time by requiring that at least 34,000 beds be filled at any given time.” Ghita Schwarz, a CCR senior staff attorney, “praised the ruling, saying in a statement that the circuit ‘found it obvious that private entities that take on public functions must be subject to public scrutiny. A decision to allow private companies to choose how the government informs the public about detention practices would be devastating to U.S. democracy and transparency principles.”

5) National: Public Citizen issues a new 34-page report on “Trump’s First 30 Days: A Wholesale Corporate Takeover of Government.”

6) NationalNewsweek says in an updated piece that for-profit immigration detention companies are part of “Steve Bannon’s Fever Dream of an American Gulag.” Jeff Stein writes, “expect DHS to start advertising for bids from private prison operators, a much-maligned industry that was collapsing in the latter years of the Obama administration. Two of the largest, GEO Group Inc. and CoreCivic Inc., are already seeing windfalls from their second chance at life: Their stock prices have nearly doubled since the election.”

7) National: National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García writes a letter to new education secretary Betsy DeVos asking her “will you agree not to privatize funding for Special Education or Title I?” and saying “privatizing and profiting from public education has not moved us toward equity, equal access, non-discrimination, and opportunity for all students.” As of late Friday, Eskelsen García had still not received an answer. DeVos says her critics want to make her life ‘a living hell,’ and that “she has identified people in the department who want her to fail, but vowed not to let them.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch writes, “Thank you, Betsy DeVos, for awakening the parents, teachers, and other concerned citizens about the risk of privatizing our public schools and handing them over to entrepreneurs and religious institutions. We will fight you. We will stand together against your schemes and malevolent dreams. The public paid for our schools, and you can’t take them away. The Network for Public Education and NPE Action will lead the fight. Join us! Thanks to DeVos, our membership went from 22,000 to more than 300,000 and it is growing daily. Help us push back. RESIST!!!!!”

8) National: The Washington Post reports that Cambridge Analytica, a government contractor associated with Trump-backers Robert and Rebekah Mercer, and on whose board Steve Bannon recently sat, is pursuing significant new contracts with the Trump administration. The “dark marketing”/data metrics company has attracted attention for its political role in Trump’s successful campaign, and, according to the Post, is touting its “counter radicalization” programs. It recently met with procurement officials at the Department of Homeland Security. [Video]

9) National: The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB) will meet this Wednesday to consider already-submitted public input on its 3-year plan, including to “determine whether implementation guidance is needed for public-private partnerships.” (p. 2) A “decision-maker within the federal government” has told the board that “with increasing reliance on private participation and budget restraints, the accounting and reporting needs to be addressed as soon as possible to prevent inconsistent applications across the Federal Government.” (p. 15)

10) National: As the Trump administration prepares to roll out a national infrastructure plan heavy on private investment, In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen explains what you need to know about ‘public private partnerships.”

11) National: The Buffalo News editorial board opposes privatization of the nation’s air traffic control system. “Allowing major airlines and their trade associations to win the fight to privatize would be wrong for several reasons, with passenger safety at the top of the list. (…) [Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran’s] characterization of the privatization plan as ‘a step further than necessary’ is spot on. Government at various levels is in great need of more efficiency, but turning the reins of air traffic control over to an industry that would police itself is not the answer.”

12) National: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, constant targets for privatization by Wall Street interests, are paying a combined $10 billion in dividends to the U.S. Treasury to support public services and other government spending.

13) National: Double standards or “alternative facts”? In its earnings call last month, K12 Inc. CEO Stuart Udell tried to wriggle out of bad news on one of his for-profit schools—Michigan Virtual Charter Academy—by citing a study by the Koch-funded, Koch Institute “partner” organization the Mackinac Center, which said “that some schools ranked poorly when only test scores are considered but when the social economic status of student is factored in, they are beating difficult odds and performing beyond expectations.” So after decades of criticizing public schools for their test scores, bragging that private is automatically better, and blocking out any argument that socioeconomic and other social factors should have anything to do with school evaluation, the corporate school privatization movement now seems to be engaging in rather odd special pleading.

14) Arizona: Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) held an education roundtable in Tucson yesterday, the first of seven roundtables on several topics this week. “One of the goals expressed during the education roundtable is to successfully fight against the privatization of the public school system. Grijalva said that’s President Trump’s goal, as well as the goal of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. One participant said the vast majority of Arizona schoolchildren attend public school, and using vouchers to pay for private and parochial education steals from them. Grijalva said parents who wish to send their children to private and parochial schools have every right to do so. ‘What (they) don’t have the right to is to expect other taxpayers that are in the public school systems to pay for that,’ he said.”

15) California: An adult charter school originally opened in 2014 to serve ex-offenders is under investigation for allegedly overcharging the state. “How can an 80-year-old be a kindergartener?”

16) District of Columbia: After inquiries by the media, the second-largest charter school system in the district has scrapped unconstitutional plans to award Liberty University—a Christian school founded by right wing Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell and now led by his Trump-supporting son Jerry Jr.—a contract “to offer online courses to high school students, including a class that would have taught them how to ‘apply a biblical perspective’ to speech writing.”

17) MassachusettsConsultants urge MBTA to privatize bus maintenance. “In a Feb. 12 memo, TransPro Consulting’s Mark Aesch called finding savings through the privatization of bus maintenance is a ‘top priority.’ ‘Releasing a [Request for Information] for bus maintenance as soon as possible will enable the MBTA to determine the total potential savings through outsourcing this function to industry,’ he wrote. TransPro also suggested making changes to the agency’s customer service department, contracting out any expansions of bus service, and privatizing some maintenance for the new Red and Orange Line cars. Altogether, those savings could come to about $65 million, Aesch wrote. (…) The attempt to privatize the jobs of bus mechanics comes after the agency renegotiated its collective bargaining agreement with the its largest labor group, the Boston Carmen’s Union, which represents its bus and subway operators, as well as many of its subway mechanics. Under that agreement, the majority of its members’ jobs were safe from privatization.”

18) MississippiCitizens pack a Hancock County public meeting to denounce a proposal to privatize their library to a for-profit company. “Many residents at the board meeting said the library system is just fine and that the privatization would have a negative impact. ‘First of all it’s a star library. It has 74% participation. If something is not broke, you don’t try to fix it, you approve upon it,’ said Hancock County resident Willie Acker. Resident Ken Short added, ‘I think that we should not be messing with it, we shouldn’t be trying to sell it to a company out of Pennsylvania. I think we should keep the money in Hancock County where it belongs.’ The Hancock County Board of Supervisors said they’re only exploring their options with the privatization and will discuss the matter again during the next meeting.”

19) Mississippi: Pike County’s largest city, McComb, has rejected a proposal to privatize its public works department. “An Alabama company, ClearWater solutions, pitched the idea to the city in January. The company runs public works departments and government utilities in several southern states. Some McComb officials said they were worried about whether employees would see cuts to retirement and other benefits if they became employees of ClearWater. The company generally pitches governments on the idea that it can save them money.”

20) North Carolina: Forced outsourcing leads to inflated costs and shady practices. WBTV in Charlotte reports that “a powerful state lawmaker has pushed to increase the outsourcing of services within the North Carolina Department of Transportation while collecting campaign contributions from private firms that do business with the state agency. (…) NCDOT has increasingly been required to rely on private firms for engineering and design services since 2011. Since then lawmakers have required NCDOT to shed hundreds of workers and pay hundreds-of-millions of dollars to private firms instead.”

21) IdahoJurors heard opening arguments in a case brought against CoreCivic, the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, by former inmates. The case contends that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), as the company was then known, “purposely understaffed the Idaho prison in an effort to boost profits in what they dubbed a ‘ghost worker’ scheme, and that the understaffing led to a brutal attack in which they were stabbed and beaten by members of a prison gang.” The inmates’ lawyer told jurors, “if you follow the money, you’re going to see what motivated the conduct in this case. CCA, the facts will show, didn’t support the people on the front lines, didn’t provide the resources they needed though they told them over and over.” In a dramatic development, a former CCA regional manager told the court on Thursday that top employees “were given yearly bonuses if they cut costs on salary, wages and other operational expenses and met other company goals.”

22) Washington: A King County judge ruled on Friday that the state’s charter school law doesn’t violate the constitution. “Coalition members haven’t decided whether they’ll appeal yet, said Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association. (…) Charter opponents won an earlier lawsuit, with the state Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that the charter-school initiative’s funding mechanism violated the state constitution. Washington lawmakers then passed a new law in March 2016 that funds the schools through lottery money. The coalition sued again, arguing that the new law violates the state constitution because, they claimed, it diverted public funding to charter schools that aren’t accountable to voters.”

23) International: A British parliamentary committee has held hearings on the government’s use of private contractors.

24) International: The Global Infrastructure Hub’s (GIB) online procurement service, launched a month ago, is pairing up public infrastructure projects with private financing. “The free platform is already emerging as a marketplace for investors to shop for infrastructure projects uploaded by government agencies seeking private sector money for their development. So far, eight countries from Latin America and Asia have submitted information about 44 projects in need of financing. In the private sector, more than 600 individual organizations from 85 countries have registered for Project Pipeline. Around 70 percent of the database’s users are from the private sector.” [Sub required]

25) International: Macquarie, the Australian infrastructure bank, is looking to offload its stake in Britain’s Thames Water. The Financial Times reports that “Thames Water was warned by a judge last week that it would receive its ‘biggest fine in history’ after dumping millions of litres of sewage into the river Thames at sites in Henley-on-Thames, Didcot, Little Marlow and Littlemore. The company was fined £1m for repeated sewage leaks into the Grand Union canal. It and other water companies were also criticised by the National Audit Office for taking excessive profits, while paying no corporation tax.” [Sub required]

26) Think Tanks: Visual researcher and information designer Kim Albrecht shares his elegant visualization of 1,500 individuals and organizations connected directly and indirectly to Donald Trump, including info visualizations of Wilbur Ross, Elaine Chao and Betsy DeVos.

Legislative Issues

1) NationalLabor battles loom over Trump’s infrastructure plan. Three bills in Congress are targeting the Davis-Bacon Act, which mandates payment of prevailing wages and benefits to workers employed under federally-funded or assisted contracts in excess of $2,000 for the construction, alteration, or repair of public buildings or public works. “U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) recently introduced the Transportation Investment Calibration to Equality (TIRE) Act, which would eliminate prevailing wage requirements under the Davis-Bacon Act on all federal highway construction contracts. In addition, U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a bill to repeal all prevailing wage requirements under the Davis-Bacon Act (S. 244), and Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) re-introduced a companion bill in the House (H. 743), entitled the ‘Davis-Bacon Repeal Act.’” 

The status of Davis-Bacon has become a political football in Congress and within the administration over the shape of Trump’s infrastructure plan. Despite lots of media coverage of Trump’s meeting with building trades union leaders last month, some see the unions and administration as being on a collision course over Davis-Bacon. Geoffrey Burr, now a member of the Trump beachhead team at the Department of Labor, spent seven years as the top lobbyist at the Associated Builders and Contractors (and overall lobbied for ABC from 2003-2015), which lobbied to repeal Davis-Bacon. Burr was in line to be chief of staff to Andy Puzder, whose nomination was just successfully defeated by a progressive coalition. “Another member of the Department of Labor beachhead team, Nathan Mehrens, has publicly blasted Davis-Bacon. Mehrens previously was president of the [Howie Rich-backed] group Americans for Limited Government. Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute, who has testified in support of the law before Congress, says Burr’s hiring is unsettling because the Department of Labor has some discretion in the setting of prevailing wages.”

2) NationalDoug Stuart, a hunter and angler living in Denver, calls on Trump to veto Congressional moves to privatize public lands. “Say goodbye to long days spent hiking in Yellowstone, fishing in Yosemite, or camping in the Grand Canyon. Congress is moving to privatize millions of acres of public lands across the country. The House of Representatives just passed a resolution that would weaken the federal government’s role in preserving public land. That’s only the tip off the iceberg. Last month, the House took the first step toward forfeiting tens of millions of acres of wilderness, streams, and mountains—the birthright of every American.”

3) Florida: A legislator’s audit has found that the state overpaid Corrections Corporations of America (CCA), now known as CoreCivic, by at least $16 million over 7 years, which “and was either the result of massive government ineptitude or a calculated fraud against taxpayers.” Rep. David Richardson, a Democrat and retired forensic auditor, “has been on a one-man crusade to bring accountability to Florida’s troubled prison system, [and] delivered a copy of his two-inch briefing book and a summary of his report to Florida’s Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel. He asked Miguel to conduct an investigation into potential criminal violations surrounding the Lake City Correctional Facility contract, as well as the six other Florida prisons operated by other vendors. This is the only prison CoreCivic now operates.”

4) KentuckyA third bill that would permit charter schools has been introduced in the legislature. “Lawmakers, lobbyists and education officials have all said that some form of charter school legislation is likely to pass in 2017. Republicans have control of the state House for the first time since 1921, and Gov. Matt Bevin, also a Republican, is in favor of charter schools. Carney, a Taylor County school official, said that if HB 520 becomes law, it would make Kentucky the 44th state in the country to allow public charter schools.”

5) Missouri: Top officials with Columbia Public Schools have sent a letter to Columbia-area legislators and members of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee “outlining the potential cost of expanding charter schools throughout the state.” Superintendent Peter Stiepleman and Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley said that under the proposed legislation (HB 634) “CPS would lose $8,423 in state and local funding for every student that attends a charter school within the district. If 100 of the district’s 17,529 students were to enroll in a charter school, the cost to the district would be $842,300. The letter specifies the CPS tax levy is determined by Columbia residents, who also elect members to the school board to provide oversight of the taxpayer funds.” Two lawmakers say that although “Democrats are outnumbered by Republicans, many rural Republicans also might reject charter school expansion because of the large economic impact of schools in their districts.”

6) Montana: Lawmakers are grappling with a bill that would establish a statewide charter school system. But Gov. Steve Bullock (D) “said last week he has fundamental problems with charter schools, saying he was ‘skeptical about diverting public dollars to schools that have no accountability.’”

7) West VirginiaDemocratic Governor Jim Justice denounces a plan to privatize the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. “It makes absolutely no sense to divest yourself of such a strong asset,” Justice said. “WVSOM graduates more physicians annually than both West Virginia University and Marshall University and more than half of the primary care physicians practicing in West Virginia are graduates of the Osteopathic School. Privatization of this outstanding educational facility will also drive up in-state tuition, dramatically, for our state’s brightest young women and men and that would be counterproductive. (…) When asked if Justice would veto Blair’s bill should it be ultimately approved by both houses of the Legislature, his Press Secretary Grant Herring said that allowing the college to privatize was the ‘last thing’ the governor wanted to do.”

 

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