A bid overdone

If the reports are true Idaho is doing better in a lot of areas like job growth, real estate sales, population increases and so on. The state as a whole is not back to pre-recession levels, but we are starting to recover. As a result of the current economic slump Idaho businesses and government agencies are learning to do as much, if not more, with less.

Sometimes there just isn’t enough money or time to accomplish everything we would like to get done.

Such is the case with the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDC). On Wednesday, June 19, the Associated Press reported the three member board of the IDC voted to not renew the state’s contract with Corrections Corporation of American (CCA). For several years CCA has been the company in charge of running Idaho’s Correction Center near Boise. What started out as a mutually beneficial relationship has now become a bottomless pit of liability.

Most recently CCA and the state of Idaho have been beset with so many federal lawsuits that the lawsuits, most filed by inmates, have been consolidated into one large suit so as not to bog down the entire federal court system in the region.

CCA reached an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount with Hanni Elabed. Elabed was an inmate at the Idaho Correction Center in 2011 when he was beaten by other inmates to the point Elabed suffered brain damage. Elabed alleged in his suit that the beating took place while CCA employed guards watched.

Even more recently the IDC asked the Idaho State Police to investigate the allegations made in the lawsuits. This request came after an Associated Press investigation revealed CCA falsified staffing records to appear to be in compliance with their contract. The investigation has also found that CCA required guards to work 48 hour shifts to meet staffing levels.

Not renewing CCA’s $29.9 million contract was the correct thing for the IDC to do. However, CCA has not been barred from rebidding for the contract. Allowing CCA to rebid the contract is a lot like tagging a runner out at second base, but allowing that runner to run home and then deciding if the run will count after the game is over. It is not in the spirit of the game, it is not in the letter of the rules of the game, and it is unnecessarily complicated.

In announcing that IDC will not be renewing CCA’s contract IDC board member J.R. Van Tassel said it was “time to shuffle the deck”. Van Tassel suggested IDC make a bid for the contract if for no better reason than to give the IDC board an idea of how much it would cost the state to run its own prison system.

IDC board chairwoman Robin Sandy rejected the idea saying IDC staff was too busy to compile a bid package that would only be used for research.

I agree with Sandy. Having a group of public employees take the time to put together a proposal that is for comparison purposes only is a waste of their time and our money.

Van Tassel said the IDC bid would give the IDC a current cost assessment of running the Idaho prison system.

“The department should be putting in a bid as well, if not to compete for providing the management of that facility, at least to give us a real-time critical look at what the costs are to operate that”, said Van Tassel.

Shouldn’t Van Tassel, as a member of the IDC board know what it costs to run the prisons he is supposed to be in charge of?

So why not have the IDC bid for the contract for real?

Sandy rejected the idea of having the Idaho Department of Corrections bid to operate their own facility because of political philosophy. The Associated Press reported Sandy rejected the idea as expanding government. Sandy is in favor of limited government.

Van Tassel countered by saying the state is already paying the employees, but using CCA to administer the money.

I agree with Van Tassel. This is not really growing government. Sandy is being penny wise and pound foolish. Again we can thank my favorite nemesis the Tea Party for popularizing the phrase “small government” beyond logic.

Over the past roughly four years the phrase “small government” has morphed from a concept of being management conscience about adding to the government workload to being a total clamp down on having government do anything.

Sandy is putting a political philosophy ahead of what may be the best solution to the problem. Van Tassel is correct Idaho taxpayers are already paying the salaries of guards and other personnel, but by using an outside contractor we as the taxpayers are also paying profit margins to CCA investors, and salaries for CCA executives in Tennessee.

Unlike a corporation a government like the state of Idaho can run at a zero-sum level. This means Idaho does not have to turn a profit. For a government entity not making a profit is okay and not going too far over budget is a win.

What Sandy forgot is that if CCA wanted $29.9 million to run the Idaho Correction Center there had to be profit figured into the bid. Companies are not in the charity business.

If I give CCA credit for taking a ridiculously low profit of 10 percent that would mean IDC taking over the operations of the Idaho Correction Center would save the people of Idaho nearly $3 million per year. Any administrative salaries would stay in Idaho and that would increase the number of jobs in the state.

I don’t care if government gets bigger as long as it offers numerous benefits in one swipe like this does. I do object to a random bureaucrat holding those benefits government can offer because the number of state-paid employees has reached an arbitrary number in that bureaucrat’s head.

It is not worth time and money wasted for the IDC to bid for the contract as a theoretical comparison study, but it is worth the time and money to have the IDC bid for the contract with the intent of taking the job.

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1 comment for “A bid overdone

  1. John Gannon
    July 26, 2013 at 8:11 am

    I do not understand why a government would not want its own employees to prepare a cost analysis and bid on a long established government function. I think most businesses would have their own employees do that. Failing to consider the views and capabilities of your own people is poor management practice. As a Legislator (Dist 17 – Boise) I have asked that the private prison budget be considered separately by the Legislature so that we can examine this flawed policy and maybe even reject it.

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