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June 30, 2005

American Business: Flunked Out Of Kindergarten?

By Jordan Barab. Reprinted from Confined Space. 

It all makes me sick:

    The money was spent in the name of improving security at the nation's airports:

  • $526.95 for one phone call from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Chicago to Iowa City.

  • $1,180 for 20 gallons of Starbucks Coffee -- $3.69 a cup -- at the Santa Clara Marriott in California.

  • $1,540 to rent 14 extension cords at $5 each per day for three weeks at the Wyndham Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa in Telluride, Colo.

  • $8,100 for elevator operators at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan.

  • $5.4 million claimed for nine months' salary for the chief executive of an "event logistics" firm that received a contract before it was incorporated and went out of business after the contract ended.

Those details are contained in a federal audit that calls into question $303 million of the $741 million spent to assess and hire airport passenger screeners for the newly created Transportation Security Administration after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The audit, along with interviews with people involved in the passenger-screener contract, paints a rare and detailed portrait of how officials at the fledgling agency lost control of the spending in the pell-mell rush to hire 60,000 screeners to meet a one-year congressional deadline.

Just a couple of initial thoughts on this. First, more personal. I worked for 16 years at a labor union that was the recipient of numerous government grants. The union's rules were that we had to keep track of, justify and show receipts for every expense, down to a $3 taxi ride. I though it was a pain in the ass, until our first government audit which we passed with flying colors.

The second thought is more political. Corporate America is always and incessently criticizing "big government" and over-regulation, and extolling the virtues of contracting out.

Obviously TSA should have been minding the store better, but come on guys, is corporate America composed of a bunch of executives with unsocialized 5-year old mentalities, children that have to be watched at every moment lest they run away with the candy shop?

And one more thought while I'm ranting. When corruption, no matter how small, is uncovered in any union, the right wing uses it to scream about corrupt labor bosses, and how workers who want a voice in their worklife are being bamboozled by criminals. Elaine Chao's Labor Department has focused like a laser beam on raising burdensome recordkeeping requirements on unions to absurd levels given the relatively small amount (in scale and frequency) of union corruption -- requirements praised to the heavens by NAM and the Chamber of Commerce.

As Nathan Newman wrote last Spring:

Can you imagine what would be said if liberals were demanding similar disclosure from every corporation? Actually, we already know since they are already whining about the Sarbanes-Oxley bill passed in the wake of the Enron-WorldCom scandals, and the disclosure to the public required for those forms are far less extensive.

Even as the Bush administration fails to fund inspectors to enforce the minimum wage or workplace safety, it's diverting money to audit unions-- clear political revenge against its perceived enemies. It has no evidence of any pervasive problems in union finances, but it's manufacturing a supposed crisis to justify its political attack.

The goal is not to save union members money-- a laudable goal that I would support -- but to cost those members money through increasing red tape and auditing costs. Such costs will clearly outstrip any potential savings in a union movement that has a financial integrity record that we only wish the corporate world could match.
I'm going to be keeping my eye on the National Association of Manufacturers blog. I expect to see an apology to the American people and to America's labor unions. I won't be holding my breath.

Posted by Jordan Barab at June 30, 2005 07:11 AM