Like Mitt Romney says, if you want a government function done right, send it to the private sector.
Well, the public body responsible for the Olympic Games in London, Locog, contracted out security for its events to one of the world's largest private security firms, G4S. G4S is sort of like the Blackwater/Xe/Academi of the UK, with around 650,000 employees working in "security" roles worldwide.
The contract between Locog and G4S is worth about $315 million.
And guess what:
G4S screwed up and can't provide the required security for the games.
Now ... I dunno. I do think that the Olympics needs some sort of extra police presence to make sure that people stay safe. But the numbers I saw looked like a bit of overkill. We're talking many thousands of police, army and private security contractors. Seems a bit funny.
Any any rate, this is the scope of the privatization failure we're talking about:
G4S has got a £284m contract to provide 13,700 guards, but only has 4,000 in place. It says a further 9,000 are in the pipeline.Um ... the games open in less than two weeks. Good luck with that!
G4S sent an urgent request on Thursday to retired police asking them to help. A memo to the National Association of Retired Police Officers said: "G4S Policing Solutions are currently and urgently recruiting for extra support for the Olympics. These are immediate starts with this Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday available. We require ex-police officers ideally with some level of security clearance and with a Security Industry Association [accreditation], however neither is compulsory."G4S didn't do what they said they would do when they took the $315 million. So now the British police and army are going to have to provide at enormous expense the security for which UK citizens already paid a huge some of money, but won't get.
"We have to find officers until the army arrives and we don't know where we are going to find them from," said Chris Jones, secretary of the federation.
Now, this isn't the first time, G4S has failed to do what it promised. Its Wikipedia page lists several other serious lapses. Apparently, when you are a company this big, you just keep getting all of the contracts, regardless of your record.
So, why the failure here?
Let me give my brief opinion:
Public security is not simply a human resources product. The police function is an institution. It's not a bunch of people picked up off the streets and given uniforms.
It's the result of several things:
Private conscience of those doing the policing.
Rules internal to the institution that govern its behavior.
Rules external that define its relationship to the public.
Trust between the policing and the policed.
Privatization of government services is based on the idea that none of this matters. It says that policing is merely a human resources need that can be filled with a bunch of temp workers distributing forms and the purchase of a few thousand uniforms. It says the same thing about teachers. And the military.
It looks like the G4S catastrophe at the London Olympics is going to show us how this can go wrong. We certainly didn't learn the lesson already from our Halliburton and Blackwater disasters.