Sometimes, I wonder why we bother to elect chief executives, since an increasing number of them are clearly uninterested in that boring activity called…what was it? oh yes…governing. Public administration. Management.
Yesterday’s news highlighted the latest in a series of missteps (a nicer word than “fuck ups”) by the Pence Administration. (Actually, I believe this one dates back to Daniels’ time.)
State officials threatened Wednesday to find a private developer in default of its contract for building a 21-mile section of the Interstate 69 extension in central Indiana after a major subcontractor stopped work over lack of payment.
The Indiana Finance Authority has issued a notice of non-performance to I-69 Development Partners LLC for the project upgrading the current Indiana 37 route between Bloomington and Martinsville.
According to bids submitted for the project in 2013, I-69 Development Partners consists of OHL Concesiones of Madrid, Star America Fund LLC of Roslyn, New York, and UIF GP LLC of Delaware.
The dispute comes after Crider & Crider Inc., the contractor responsible for the project’s earth-moving operations, halted work this week.
For the past several decades, public officials–especially but certainly not exclusively Republican elected officials–have had a love affair with so-called “privatization.” I say “so-called,” because genuine privatization involves government’s withdrawal from a given activity (Margaret Thatcher selling off steel mills to the private sector, for example.) In the U.S., what is usually called privatization is actually outsourcing–the practice of choosing a for-profit or nonprofit surrogate to manage a job or provide a service on behalf of a government agency.
I have written extensively about the issues involved in outsourcing, and I’m not inclined to belabor the issue here. Suffice it to say that agencies of government may contract with private entities to provide government services, but they cannot contract away their ultimate responsibility for seeing to it that the project or service is appropriately managed or delivered.
When government hires a contractor to perform a service–in this case, to build a road–it still has the obligation to supervise that contractor’s performance. Effective and competent outsourcing requires that the relevant government agency retain sufficient capacity to manage and monitor the contractor.
Some government functions, of course, simply should not be outsourced. (Private prisons come to mind.) Reasonable people can argue about the wisdom of contracting with private developers to manage the building of roads, but those reasonable people will usually agree that the state retains an obligation to supervise and control its contractors, who are, after all, being paid with tax dollars.
In this case, clearly, that supervision was lacking. And we all know who pays the price when government fails to discharge its most basic responsibilities, one of which is infrastructure:
State Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said many people are frustrated with the traffic delays on Indiana 37 caused by I-69 construction and that he’s not been able to get answers from state officials or the developer.
“People don’t understand why they’re driving through miles and miles of traffic barrels and seeing little, if anything, getting done,” he said.
About 95 miles of the I-69 extension have opened since 2012 between Evansville and Bloomington through southwestern Indiana. The total cost of the I-69 extension is estimated at $3 billion, but the cost of the final leg from Martinsville to Interstate 465 has not been determined.
When that cost is determined, we all know who will pay it.