By J.C. Weingartner
MEA-MFT Member Rights Director
June 2009 – Good public policy demands that state government protect the safety of the state’s citizens, its facilities, its employees, and those entrusted to the state for care.
MEA-MFT has always advocated that public employees are better equipped to satisfy this mandate than private contractors.
For this reason, MEA-MFT recently brought suit against the Montana Department of Corrections to require it to follow state law before outsourcing work that has historically been performed by public employees.
The privatization of government functions has increased in recent years. Some government authorities have bought into the deceptive notion that private independent contractors can provide better and less costly services than public employees. Facts have proven that the opposite is true.
In the 2005 Legislature, MEA-MFT championed the Montana Clean Contracting Act and got it passed into law. The law requires that before a state agency can take a service provided by public employees and outsource it to private contractors, certain legislative reviews must be conducted and then considered by the governor.
The intent of this law is to require transparency in government. But the Department of Corrections has simply ignored the law’s requirements.
In 2007, the department attempted to circumvent the law by introducing legislation to require that a state sex offender treatment program be outsourced to private contractors. MEA-MFT succeeded in striking certain provisions of the proposal and requiring compliance with the Montana Clean Contracting Act.
The Department of Corrections again ignored the act in 2008, when it issued a Request For Proposals to private contractors to build and service a sex offender treatment program. Proposals were received and rejected. However, the department continued to secretly negotiate with one of the rejected contractors in hopes of striking a deal.
“Enough already,” said MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver. “When will the Department of Corrections recognize that it is not above the law, especially a law that was specifically targeted to curb these abuses?”
MEA-MFT filed a lawsuit this spring against the department, asking the judicial system to reinforce that the department must abide by the Montana Clean Contracting Act and cannot secretly negotiate contracts behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny.
“I am optimistic that the court will issue a favorable decision,” Feaver said. “Public employees have a proven track record and provide exceptional services. Why would the state want to compromise public safety by outsourcing these public functions? MEA-MFT will always defend public employees and the state’s quality public services.”