Do It Better, But Don't Do Anything Different!

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A study of aviation security practices [PDF] by the General Accounting Office finds that—surprise, surprise—you don't realize many benefits from private contracting when a thicket of regulations requires the private firms to do things exactly like the feds.

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  1. The primary function of any bureaucracy is to perpetuate its own existence. I predict that the TSA will do anything and everything in its power to force private firms out of the “security screening” business. Burdensome regulations and oversight is just one tactic.

  2. “competition” for grants from the public dole isn’t really what “free minds and free markets” is all about.

  3. A point Bob Poole has been making for many years.

    Glad to see the GAO listening to Reason for a change. Pun intended (groan)

  4. This was my experience the one summer I worked at a Department of Energy lab run by a contractor. It wasn’t like individual projects were contracted out on a competitive basis, the way university research grants are (say what you will about the many problems in academia, but lack of competition is not one of them). Instead, a huge facility was run by a contractor in a symbiotic relationship that seemed to create twice as many bureaucrats (one layer for DOE, another for the contractor). And since the transaction costs of switching contractors would be huge there was no credible threat of losing business that might inspire efficiency.

    Contracting can yield benefits when it’s done on a per-project basis with competitive bidding, low transaction costs for switching contractors, and a credible threat to terminate the contract as punishment for poor performance. But if contracting simply means that everybody gets different name tags and twice as many paper-pushers are involved, contracting may actually be worse than simply having the gov’t do it outright.

  5. I should clarify on academia: Yes, there is a lack of competition in K-12. But at the college and university level things are very competitive. Witness the way public and private schools woo students, and the way that research groups compete for grants (both public and private). There are many, many problems, but lack of competition isn’t one of them.

  6. What “Dictator For Hire” said.

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