What is the appropriate consequence for enabling the abuse of children? Wings of Refuge, a private contractor for Los Angeles County, was one of the contractors most cited by child welfare inspectors before their contract was terminated earlier this year. In one case, a foster mother was found to have bruised children in her care with a belt across their backs, legs, arms and buttocks for more than a year. A judge later concluded she had also slapped their faces, dragged them up stairs and bit their fingers. Other examples of abuse of children placed by Wings of Refuge include small children being locked in a garage or outside on cold nights, and confined to their rooms for days at a time.
For Wings of Refuge, the only consequence was repeated renewal of their $3 million taxpayer funded annual contract. Their service was only terminated when the organization neglected to file required financial forms with the state of California.
Unfortunately, stories like this aren't unique. Coast to coast, public services are being outsourced, often to for-profit corporations, by cash-strapped local governments resulting in a loss of accountability and taxpayer control.
There is the case of untrained contract security guards and outsourced bus drivers with incomplete drug and alcohol testing in San Diego County, which left disabled passengers stranded. Or the nun in Indiana who was removed from food stamps and other benefits by a for-profit contractor while hospitalized for cancer treatment, because that hospitalization prevented her from attending a recertification interview.
The examples, unfortunately, are all too typical. Local and state governments too often outsource important public services without strong standards, public transparency, and rigorous oversight. Without these protections the results are predictable. A new report "Out of Control: The Coast-to-Coast Failures of Outsourcing Public Services to For-Profit Corporations" highlights similar failed experiences with privatization of states and communities across the country.
These repeated failures illustrate why we need action to rein in outsourcing. There are simple ways to make sure the public is protected when government's contract out vital public functions. Cities and states across the country are starting to enact common sense reforms such as requiring corporations to demonstrate cost savings, prohibiting companies that have evaded taxes from taking over services, requiring private contractors to provide the same level of transparency as do public agencies and ending contracts that guarantee profits regardless of quality of service.
When government considers outsourcing, there are important questions to be asked. If a government decides to outsource, those questions should lead to explicit protections for taxpayers so that abuses like those that occurred in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Indiana don't continue elsewhere. Lawmakers of all levels should stand on the side of taxpayers, and common sense, by ensuring our communities aren't plagued by the types of horror stories contained in the new report, as well as in front page headlines.