Friday, August 24, 2007

Idea Fishin’



As I was casting about for ideas on what to write about today, the thought occurred to me; If I could ever organize my brain I’d probably be dangerous. Stick with me a minute and you’ll see what I mean.

First I went over to John Carr’s blog. Good stuff (as always) but today’s story didn’t really grab me. Then I went over to the FAA Follies. That reminded me of the FSS guy I ran into as Oshkosh. He’d lost his government retirement (for all intents and purposes) and was now working for LockMart (Lockheed Martin.) Twenty years of retirement eligibility shot. That has to hurt. It’d be a great “human interest” story for a reporter. Not to mention the fact that, less than two years after the FAA put these guys on the street, it can’t find enough controllers to staff the system. Of course, if the FAA had kept them on (and shown the least bit of humanity) then LockMart wouldn’t have had anybody to staff their “new and improved” Flight Service Stations.

All that reminded me of a little tidbit I’d read about Lockheed. So I went back to Wikipedia.

Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) is a leading multinational aerospace manufacturer and advanced technology company formed in 1995 by the merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta. It is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, a community in Montgomery County, Maryland, and employs 140,000 people worldwide. Robert J. Stevens is the current Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer.

Lockheed Martin is the world's largest defense contractor (by revenue).[1] As of 2005, 95% of Lockheed Martin's revenues came from the United States Department of Defense, other U.S. federal government agencies, and foreign military customers.”


(emphasis added)

But isn’t just Lockheed.

The Boeing Company (NYSE: BA, TYO: 7661 ) is a major aerospace and defense corporation, originally founded by William Boeing. Its international headquarters is in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Boeing is the largest global aircraft manufacturer by revenue, the second largest by deliveries and the second-largest aerospace and defense contractor in the world.

I could go on but you get the idea. But I did, in fact, go on. That is how a wound up looking at The Carlyle Group and reading about this little, other group.

Now, you really need to go over to Wikipedia and read this one for yourself (that’s sort of the idea here folks) but I’ll give you the teaser before I continue on (which is what this blog entry is about.)

"US Investigations Services

USIS is the privatized arm of the Office of Personnel Management's Office of Federal Investigations, which was privatized in 1996.

USIS began as an employee-owned company, but has since been purchased by private investors and was owned by The Carlyle Group and Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, two private equity firms. In May 2007 USIS announced that it had been sold to Providence Equity Partners, another private equity firm.

Since OPM’s privatization of its federal investigators, approximately 2000 investigators from the Defense Security Service have been transferred to OPM, and OPM has since reconstituted its federal investigations program in the Center for Federal Investigative Services, located within OPM. OPM is responsible for 90% of federal security clearance investigations, but it contracts out most of this work."


(emphasis added)

Now that is interesting. And it ain’t the half of it (literally.) Trust me folks, you really need to read the whole thing. Maybe two or three times.

Disregarding (for the moment) that this started as “an employee-owned company” (huh ???) that was bought out by a private equity firm (“Revenue -- Undisclosed to public”) and not bothering to figure out if the statement “OPM has since reconstituted its federal investigations program” really means what I think it means...

...let’s go back to this “privatization of its federal investigators” thing. You may not know it but every air traffic controller reading this (there are quite a few that do) knows that controllers go through a background check prior to being hired by the FAA. As a matter of fact, all of the background checks were “updated” shortly after 9/11 (not that the Government -- or it’s contractors -- had been lax in performing their duties or anything.)

I’m not really sure why but the fact that potential government employees are disclosing personal information to a private contractor --which is owned by a private equity firm -- just bothers me. I have no idea if this section of Wikipedia is correct and I have no idea if USIS did a background check on me. I thought the Federal Government conducted the check. And the recheck. 9/11 was in 2001. USIS (in case you missed it) was formed in 1996. Too bad it doesn’t say when the “employee-owned company” (yeah, that’s still bugging me) was acquired by The Carlyle Group.

This little tidbit stuck with me through most of the day. Including the part of the day in which I found myself in a library with some time to kill. I ran down the political science isle until I found a book on political corruption. Unfortunately, I forgot the name of the book (it should have been “Dry As Toast”) but it was interesting. (Keep in mind I’m the guy that can actually read FAA manuals and stay awake.)

It turns out that selling civil service positions is -- historically -- a great source of wealth. It was actually legal in England until a few centuries ago. Our (as in American) best known flirtation with this form of corruption was encompassed in the story of Boss Tweed. There are many other examples in today’s world. Greed never goes out of style.

In short, government officials sell the assets (or power) of the Government (in America’s case that would be your assets and power) for private gain (assets, power or both.) It all sounds pretty much like the same old, same old -- until you think about that “privatization of its federal investigators” part. Private (for profit) investigators acting on behalf of the government (think serious power) and being able to influence who can (and can’t) work for the government. That seems to be a whole ‘nother can of worms.

Speaking of bait (worms -- get it ?), I’m the kind of guy that just casts out a line and sees what I can reel in. Perhaps you’re more like a fly fisherman and have the patience to zero in on just one fish and go after it. This seems a likely spot to try because something around here sure smells fishy.

(If you do pursue one of these ideas-- and you post it on your own blog -- email me and I’ll post a link.)

Don Brown
August 24, 2007

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