In principle, the contracting-out of provision of government services can be a great idea. And certainly nobody thinks the public sector ought to produce everything in house. Government agencies by paper from paper companies, they don’t get it from the National Paper Manufacturing Agency. But all too often in practice it looks like this:
Since 2008, the Pearson Foundation, the nonprofit arm of one of the nation’s largest educational publishers, has financed free international trips — some have called them junkets — for education commissioners whose states do business with the company. When the state commissioners are asked about these trips — to Rio de Janeiro; London; Singapore; and Helsinki, Finland — they emphasize the time they spend with educators from around the world to get ideas for improving American public schools. [...]
The foundation’s officials say the free trips are solely educational and have no business purpose. On the foundation’s tax forms for the last two years, the line for listing “payments of travel or entertainment expenses for any federal, state or local public officials” has been left blank.
Don’t buy the false dichotomy here. I’ve been on a number of junkets abroad, including to Helsinki to get ideas for improving American public schools, and the point is that unless the trip sucks you’re naturally grateful to whoever paid for it (in my case the Finnish foreign ministry) and at the margin inclined to help them out. I trust that readers don’t believe my blog is just a smokescreen for a Finland propaganda campaign, but the idea that accepting free trips from government contractors is going to have no impact on contracting decisions is naïve.