Home > Uncategorized > Most of the mainstream media skipped class last week on privatization and the Pacheco Law

Most of the mainstream media skipped class last week on privatization and the Pacheco Law

It’s amazing how little real understanding the mainstream media has of the issue of privatization and of legislative responses to it such as the Pacheco Law.

You only have to read this Boston Globe editorial from 2011 to begin to realize how many misconceptions supposedly savvy journalists have about these issues.  (More about that below.)

Privatization is one of the most important and controversial aspects of state and federal policy. When I googled the phrase “privatization and public policy,” I got 2.7 million results.  The state auditor’s administration of the Pacheco Law has become a key item of controversy in Massachusetts politics as well.

In that light, the State Auditor’s Office and the Boston Bar Association organized a forum directly across the street from the State House this past Thursday afternoon to discuss and debate the Pacheco Law and its impact on privatization, and invited the media to attend.

I was invited to present the pro-Pacheco Law side in the discussion, and Charlie Chieppo, a senior fellow at the Pioneer Institute, presented the anti-Pacheco Law side.  A number of top people from the Auditor’s Office presented information on how the law works, highlights of its 23-year history, and key areas of litigation involving the law. Michael LaGrassa of UMass Dartmouth discussed the university’s experience with the Pacheco Law in privatizing the campus bookstore operations in 2014.

In addition to the lineup of speakers, the State Auditor’s Office had put together three-ring binder notebooks filled with helpful information on the Pacheco Law and what it actually does and requires, in addition to materials we had submitted stating our positions on the law. (Included in the binder was our report, “Setting the record straight about the Pacheco Law.”  I’ll post that report here this week.)

As I understand it, two members of the media showed up at the Thursday forum — a reporter from Massachusetts Lawyer’s Weekly and a reporter from The Boston Business Journal.  I haven’t yet seen anything published from them, but at least they were there.

Neither the Globe nor Herald sent anyone to the event.  Notably absent was Globe columnist Scot Lehigh, who has been described as someone who “has been the most consistent and vociferous critic of the (Pacheco) law…”

From my vantage point, there appeared to be some 50 to 60 people in attendance at the forum.

Among the little-known and discussed facts about the Pacheco Law that I tried to point out during the forum were that:

    1. The Pacheco Law was based on federal policy (OMB Circular A-76)
    2. The law never barred or banned the award of bus contracts by the MBTA, and the law has not stopped privatization of most human services in Massachusetts

Chieppo of the Pioneer Institute argued that the Pacheco Law is different than A-76 because A-76 requires a binding letter of obligation if the public employees win the bid competition with the private sector.  (I disagreed with his assertion that no such obligation binds state employees under the Pacheco Law.)

LaGrassa of UMass said the Pacheco Law review that the university did to privatize their bookstore helped them to better understand the costs involved in running it.  He said that the process involved a lot of work and back-and-forth with the auditor’s office; but in his words, “you should do a lot of work” if you are going to privatize a public service.

Regarding the 2011 Globe editorial referred to above:

Memo to Globe editorial writer: Contractors bidding to privatize services don’t have to pay public sector wages under a Pacheco Law review.  They can pay the lesser of the lowest public sector wage or the average private sector wage for the equivalent position.

And no, a privatization initiative doesn’t have to “produce savings” over what the state employees could achieve under ideal conditions.  The privatization initiative must project such savings, but no one has to — or is expected to — actually produce them.   The Pacheco Law requires a competition between private and public sector bids, both types of which are based on projected results that might be achieved under ideal conditions.

The bottom line, it seems to me, is that people in the mainstream media still occupy influential positions as opinion makers regarding politics and government, in particular.  As such, they have an obligation to get their facts straight on these matters.  The state auditor’s “Primer” on privatization last week presented a convenient opportunity to do that.

But with two exceptions, the mainstream media blew their opportunity by missing the class.

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  1. Mary Ann McNamara
    January 11, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    It is a shame that the mainstream media would miss such a valuable opportunity to miss out on an opportunity to educate themselves and their readers on TWO critically important topics: the Pacheco Law and the care of the state’s most vulnerable citizens! Shame on them!!
    From the niece and co-guardian of a Wrentham Developmental Center resident.

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