It's A Gray Area: Governments need to outsource services

My Aug. 12, 2007, column recommended that all governments pass sunset laws requiring each of their agencies to receive a positive vote every six or seven years from their legislatures in order to be funded again. The government would abolish the agency if it did not receive a favorable vote.

Sunset laws would allow everyone to see more clearly what each governmental agency had accomplished since its last review period, and what its plans would be for the future. We could see if we were getting sufficient "bang" for our tax buck.

Private companies continually follow these basic Libertarian principles, although less formally, as they monitor their own activities in trying to maximize revenues and reduce expenses. Governments should be forced to do the same, and sunset laws would help significantly.

Much of the work done by these agencies simply should not be done by governments at all. Instead it should be done by competent companies as successful low-bid contractors with those governments.

The city of Costa Mesa should be applauded for moving in that direction — if somewhat tardily. This is the fiscally responsible thing to do, and other governments should follow Costa Mesa's lead.

Of course, Costa Mesa's actions have had an impact on some good and faithful city employees who have received layoff notices. Our hearts should go out to them, and they should be treated fairly under the law.

But that also happens in the private sector, and most of those employees were doing work that never should have been done by the city in the first place. Why? Because private companies can virtually always do the job as well but for much cheaper.

For example, why should the state have an agency like the California Department of Transportation? Fundamentally, it is silly for the state to own and maintain all those dump trucks, bulldozers and other heavy equipment, and pay the salaries and other benefits of all of those workers. Instead the state should employ a few people to enter into low-bid contracts with qualified private companies, and then supervise the work those companies do.

As another example, a friend of mine owns a private company in San Diego that contracts with cities to issue each city's building permits, and then inspects the jobs when the work is completed. And the results have been great for everybody. The permit and approval work is done well and with integrity, but the cities have not had to employ and pay for all of those workers; the client builders are happy because each city's rules are applied fairly, but the waiting time has been seriously reduced; and my friend's company is making good money. There is simply no reason that this approach cannot be replicated in other areas as well. In fact, it is financially foolish not to do so.

And can this apply to the federal government? Absolutely.

The first thing to do would be to abolish the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Every time I have asked Native Americans what they think about the BIA, they have said they hate it. And when you discover what is happening, you would agree with them.

Just put yourself in the place of Native Americans. According to http://www.bia.gov, it is the mission of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be involved in the "prudent management of the federal dollars we are entrusted with as we work to strengthen Tribal Nations."

In other words, the federal government, even after keeping the Native Americans under its "protection" for more than 200 years, still does not think that they can effectively manage their own lives.

What would you think if the federal government had an agency to "protect" you because it was so concerned that you as a people were not smart, wise or sophisticated enough to take care of yourselves? Is that not the definition of arrogance? But why stop there? Why do we not have a Bureau of Scottish American Affairs to "protect" me and my family? It would be much better for the Native Americans to be forced to take responsibility for their own decisions, just like everyone else.

Of course, the additional fact that historically the BIA was the policeman that broke their treaties, deprived them of their lands and put them on reservations is difficult for the Native Americans to forget. And to that history we also can add that the BIA has been sued on four separate occasions in class actions for tens of millions of dollars of damages by the Federation of Indian Service Employees for various grievances, as well as for "misplacing" hundreds of millions of dollars of Native American assets gained from the leasing of their lands. So it is not surprising that the Native Americans have no sense of humor about these federal agencies.

And neither should we, if only as taxpayers. The 2012 budget has dedicated $2.5 billion to provide education and health care services for Native Americans and oversee their lands. If you were a member of Congress, how would you vote on whether or not the Bureau of Indian Affairs should be continued or abolished? I'll bet you would vote just like I would.

How many more federal, state, county and city agencies should be abolished and/or their work referred to private companies like has been done by the city of Costa Mesa? None of us know, but it is time to find out.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at http://www.JudgeJimGray.com.

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