Friday, May 05, 2006

The inefficiency continues

The Edmonton Journal reported today on a move by Canada's military to privatize delivery of some services at Canadian Forces Station Alert. But the reason for the change doesn't make sense under the slightest bit of examination:
The military plans to replace half of its personnel with contract workers at Canadian Forces Station Alert, a secretive spying outpost at the top of the world, by November.

"We do have excess infrastructure that we're maintaining right now," said Maj. Gioseph Anello, who is in charge of the Alert modernization project, a multi-year effort to shave the military's costs at the station...

With 72 full-time personnel who rotate in and out on six-month terms, Alert costs the military about $30 million a year to operate. Contractors could run the station for less by multi-tasking their employees, said Anello.

"As an example, the (contracted) driver of the truck can maintain that truck, off-load the truck and load the truck," he said. "In the military we would have the driver, a mechanic and a traffic guy."
Needless to say, Anello's explanation begs the question: why can't the military train a single employee to handle all three duties if a private contractor is able to? Surely that should be a simpler way to cut costs at least as much - and probably more since (presumably) the Canadian Forces wouldn't be looking to make a profit off the work, and since it'll presumably take a significant amount more planning for a contractor to decide how to get employees to the base than for the military to modify its current rotation practices.

Meanwhile, guess which programs also operating in the area are facing higher costs as a result of the move:
(O)ther groups who use Alert say the changes might increase their costs. The station is home to a marquis Environment Canada facility that has for two decades monitored the atmosphere for pollutants and global warming gases. But researchers say they expect their program to continue, since the military is not planning to reduce the number of beds available at Alert.

"There might be some different logistical arrangements or maybe some more increased costs to travel and deal with the infrastructure up there," said Marjorie Shepherd, manager of air quality measurements and analysis for Environment Canada.
In sum, this looks like just one more lose-lose privatization plan. Sadly, the question for now isn't whether that pattern will continue, but only whether any of Canada's state apparatus will emerge unscathed.

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