The Codcast: Outsourcing works at other transit agencies

This week’s Codcast suggests Massachusetts has a lot of work to do when it comes to farming out government work to private contractors.

The Legislature granted the MBTA a three-year exemption from the so-called Pacheco Law, which governs how public agencies can contract out work to private companies. But every time the T has tried outsourcing one of its operations, there’s been a battle.

The most recent example was an attempt to outsource the work at three bus maintenance garages, which prompted the union representing the existing T workers to launch a political campaign against the effort, complete with protests, advertising, and lots and lots of rallies with many of the state’s political leaders. Ultimately, only one contractor applied for the work and the T eventually struck the best cost-savings deal it could with the union.

On this week’s Codcast, Josh Fairchild and Jim Aloisi of TransitMatters interview David Bragdon, the executive director of TransitCenter in New York City, and Neil Smith, the executive director of Transit Systems, an Australian company that provides transportation services to government agencies in Australia, Singapore, and London. (Transit Systems is the company that acquired Bridj, the Boston-based firm that tried to launch on-demand bus service.)

Bragdon and Smith were in Boston for an event focused on government contracting. The TransitCenter also released a report examining contracting efforts in Stockholm, Oslo, London, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Vancouver.

Bragdon and Smith make outsourcing sound so simple. They say a government agency needs to research what outcomes it wants from a contract and then put in place the financial incentives needed to accomplish those goals. They say the government agency needs to focus on the contract outputs — what the customer will see or experience — and leave the inputs to the private companies.

Both men say the focus should be less on cost-savings, which is typically a top MBTA priority, and more on improving service. Bragdon said customer-facing initiatives — on-time service, cleanliness, etc. — are typically what private companies do well. “The forces of competition do create more dynamism in terms of what’s being offered to a customer,” he said.

At the MBTA, the fight over outsourcing often devolves into a food fight over wages, with the private contractor being accused of making its profit by paying its workers less. But Smith said government agencies can set the terms of the contract to assure market-level wages are paid to workers. He also noted that below-market wages rarely yield a productive workforce. He said his company participated in the first competitively bid transit contract in Singapore and suggested raising wages there because the pay was too low to attract quality bus drivers.

One thing Bragdon was clear about was the need for at least four to six bidders on a contract, which is rare at the MBTA. Anything less, he said, and something is wrong with the contracting process.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

A bill filed in the Legislature would bar nondisclosure agreements in cases related to harassment or discrimination such as those reported relating to disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. (Boston Herald)

Sexual harassment claims are skyrocketing in Massachusetts, according to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. (Boston Herald)

The Long Goodbye: Former state senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who gave her farewell address last week, sits down with Keller@Large for an exit interview to discuss her career and her hopes for the future of Boston. The exit of the lone black member of the state Senate puts a spotlight on low representation of minorities in the elected office in Massachusetts. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Kevin Cullen bemoans the way the Boston Police Department was attacked for sending a tweet celebrating Red Auerbach’s contributions to racial equality during Black History Month. (Boston Globe) Boston civil rights icon Mel King, who in 1983 became the first black candidate in a mayoral final election, pens a letter to the editor of the Globe saying he found it “strange” to see objections to the BPD tweet and that “we need to lift up white people whenever they are doing the right thing.”

New Lynn mayor Thomas McGee names Stephen Archer to be the city’s first black fire chief. (Boston Globe)

James Aloisi recalls the man who brought Boston back from the brink, and discloses it may not have happened but for a needless insult. (CommonWealth)

Brockton Housing Authority officials are re-examining security protocols after a maintenance supervisor who had a set of master keys with access to all units of the city’s public housing was charged with rape and indecent assault and battery on an intellectually disabled man. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Last week’s massacre at a Florida high school that killed 17 is unleashing a strong call for congressional action on guns, and President Trump signals an openness to strengthening background checks for gun sales. (Washington Post) More than 3,000 people have already indicated on a Facebook group post that they will attend a Boston protest on March 24, when rallies are being held nationally calling for stricter gun control laws, and 21,000 said they were interested in attending. (Boston Herald) Sales of a Lowell company’s bulletproof backpack have soared in the wake of last week’s killings. (Boston Herald)

The indictment Friday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of Russian nationalists for interfering with the 2016 election lays out how unwitting Americans were duped by bots with imperfect English. (New York Times) A Facebook executive apologizes to his company and to Mueller. (Wired)

Does earnest and decidedly un-edgy US Rep. Joseph Kennedy III have the right stuff to lead the next generation of Democrats? Joan Vennochi isn’t so sure. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

House Minority Leader Brad Jones wants the Massachusetts Republican Party to scrap its rule requiring the state party to remain neutral in contested primaries so that it can disavow the gubernatorial candidacy of Scott Lively, a Springfield minister with harsh anti-gay views. (Boston Globe)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released its version of a new congressional map, tossing out the GOP-gerrymandered cartography, in a move that could have as big an impact on the makeup of Congress as any other election across the country. (New York Times)

The primary campaign between US Rep. Michael Capuano and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley may be all about nuance. Here’s an example. (State House News)

A fierce battle for a state Senate seat is shaping up if Sen. Eileen Donoghue opts for the city manager’s job in Lowell. (Lowell Sun)

Edward M. Murphy says the millionaire tax is the wrong way to play Robin Hood. (CommonWealth)

Lowell Sun columnist Peter Lucas says Sen. Elizabeth Warren should settle the issue of her Indian ancestry once and for all by publicly tracing her heritage by joining Ancestry DNA.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A New Bedford food pantry and two other nonprofits are being forced to move from a state-owned building that once housed an orphanage after officials decided to make the site available for private development to return it to the city’s tax rolls. (Standard-Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Partners HealthCare will lay off about 100 workers and outsource their duties, largely medical coding, to lower-cost overseas contractors. (Boston Globe)

A former Millbury nursing home is being converted to a short-term detox center. (Telegram & Gazette)

An addiction psychiatrist says rehab treatment really doesn’t work, particularly for opioid addictions. (WBUR)

TRANSPORTATION

The proposed bridge over the Mystic River connecting the Wynn Resorts casino in Everett and Assembly Square in Cambridge would cost $23 million — and so far no one is stepping forward to pay for it. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration selected a backup for Northern Pass, but sticks with Hydro-Quebec as its supplier of clean energy. (CommonWealth)

More on the pipeline debate: Jon Hurst of the Massachusetts Retailers Association (pro) versus Matt Mincieli (con) of Technet. (CommonWealth)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said a fourth quarter inspection of the Pilgrim power plant found no violations after the facility’s owner addressed the numerous safety violations found in a series of earlier inspections. (Cape Cod Times)

Darlene Lombos says municipal aggregation gives communities more control of their energy purchases. (CommonWealth)

President Trump is once again looking to end the heating assistance program, insisting it is rife with fraud and no one will freeze if the program is disbanded. (Associated Press)

Scientists are advocating a change to ropeless lobster traps that rely on GPS technology as a strategy to save endangered right whales, whose tiny numbers are being further depleted by deaths from entanglement with fishing lines. (Boston Globe)

Scientists plan to test DNA extracted from a human bone found on the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah off Cape Cod and compare it to that of a known relative of Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy. (Cape Cod Times)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Matt Maddox, the new CEO of Wynn Resorts, said he was not aware of the sexual misconduct allegations against his former boss, Steve Wynn. (Associated Press) Newly released emails show the Massachusetts Gaming Commission was shocked by the allegations against Wynn. “OMG” was the response of Stephen Crosby, the chairman. (MassLive)

Gloucester tells the Cannabis Control Commission that the cost of implementing marijuana legalization will be higher than the revenue the municipality will receive from sales. (Gloucester Times)

Kyle Moon and his family have opened a social club in Worcester called the Summit Lounge where patrons can smoke whatever they want. Moon says he might expand to other Massachusetts cities. (Lowell Sun)

A UMass Boston psychology professor has developed an app that helps marijuana users determine whether they can safely get behind the wheel of a car. (MassLive)