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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Limits on Contracting Out

Your story about the contractors at the Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in Vermont and California (Immigration Contractor Trims Wages, New York Times, December 2, 2007: A20) led me to wonder about what the limits of government out-sourcing should be.

It seems to me that hiring contractors by government should be reserved for two kinds of assignments. First, contractors should be employed for tasks requiring highly specialized skills which are not normally part of the government's repertoire. Second, contractors should be employed for short term one-off assignments. Work with long term prospects should be brought in house as soon as possible. The clerical work at the Immigration offices seem to require little specialized skill, just aptitude to internalize a long list of procedures, and seems to be a task that will continue long into the future given the number of legal immigrants becoming eligible for citizenship.

Similarly, now the war in Iraq is almost in its fifth year, we should have reduced the number of contractors on the ground, expanded the military, and brought most contractor jobs under military discipline. Our failure to do that has resulted in errors of omission (failure to maintain clean eating facilities) and commission (possibly unjustified shootings of Iraqi civilians).

Sent to New York Times

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