How government agencies avoid competitive bidding

Are you an Eskimo from Alaska?  Are you part Eskimo?  Do you know an Eskimo?  (That term, by the way, according to Wikipedia is NOT pejorative when referring to the Alaskan tribes.)  If so, you can start a company and get a government contract without having to compete for it.  Then you can sub-contract the actual work to other companies, pocketing millions for yourself.

That’s one of the ways the federal procurement process avoids having to comply with time-consuming but money-saving laws about taking the lowest bid .  From The Washington Post:

United Solutions and Services, known as US2, had just three employees and several small contracts for janitorial services and other work. It was based in a four-bedroom colonial, where the founder worked out of his living room.

But the firm had one quality the Army prized: It was co-owned by an Alaska native corporation (ANC) and therefore could receive federal contracts of any size without competition, under special set-aside exemptions granted by Congress to help impoverished Alaska natives.

On Sept. 2, 2008, US2 was granted a deal worth as much as $250 million – 3,000 times the $73,000 in revenue the firm claimed the year before. The contract enabled the Army to quickly fund a wide array of projects, including a global campaign to prevent sexual assault and harassment, without seeking outside bids.

US2 could not do the work by itself, though. With the Army’s knowledge, the firm subcontracted the majority of it to more established companies, a Washington Post investigation has found.

Federal rules generally require prime contractors on set-aside deals to perform at least half of the work, something US2 did not do on more than $100 million worth of jobs, according to interviews with Army officials and an analysis of federal procurement data.

via Alaska native status gave tiny, inexperienced firm a $250 million Army contract.

Come, Lord Jesus

It’s Advent!   I love how the Advent hymns, Scripture readings, and sermons focus on all of the different senses of Jesus’s coming to us.  Yes, we look forward to His coming in the events of Christmas.  But we also study the Old Testament prophecies of His coming.  We also contemplate His second coming.  And we also reflect on the way He comes to us personally in the sacraments and in His Word.

Let’s do another sermon compilation.  What insights did you have about Jesus’s coming in the first Sunday of Advent?

In whatever you are going through in your life, may Jesus come to you!

Saying grace

The Religious News Service reports on a study about how many Americans have a prayer of thanksgiving before meals:

These days, 44 percent of Americans report saying grace or a similar blessing almost every day before eating; 46 percent almost never say it, leaving just a statistical sliver in between, Putnam and Campbell report in their recently published book, “American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us.”

“We are hard-pressed to think of many other behaviors that are so common among one half the population and rare among the other half—maybe carrying a purse,” Putnam and Campbell write.

Yet unlike wearing a purse, grace is often a private act: a quiet prayer around a kitchen table, a quick thanks in a crowded restaurant, or a bowed head before a bowl of soup.

“Saying grace is a very personalized form of religious expression,” Campbell said in an interview. “It’s something you do in your home, with your family.”

The privacy of saying grace—it’s not often shouted from rooftops—makes it a better measure of religious commitment than asking people if they go to church, Campbell said. Giving thanks for food isn’t generally said or done to impress the neighbors.

But the private prayer has strong connections to public positions, especially political ones, according to Putnam and Campbell. “Indeed, few things about a person correspond as tightly to partisanship as grace saying,” the scholars write in “American Grace.”

The more often you say grace, the more likely you are to identify with the Republican Party, Putnam and Campbell report. By turns, of course, the less you say grace, the more likely you are to identify with Democrats, the scholars said.

But there is one big exception to the prayer-politics connection. Eighty-five percent of African Americans report saying grace daily, a far higher rate than even Mormons, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants, the runners-up in grace-saying. The rate for evangelicals, for instance, is 58 percent. Yet, blacks remain stalwarts in the Democratic Party.

via Comment on “How, or if, you give thanks speaks volumes”.

Only 58% of evangelicals pray before they eat?  So 42% do not?  That sounds odd.  I wonder in what sense the non-prayers are evangelical.  I also don’t understand the correlation between Republicanism and saying grace.  Aren’t Republicans supposed to be the big money materialists?  Have Democrats really become that secularist?  It doesn’t surprise me that African Americans pray so much. But why do you think all of this is?

By the way, some time ago I sort of complained about the ubiquitous Lutheran table prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. . . .”  I’m over that.  Now I think it’s a good prayer, and we’ve started to use it.  It’s especially fitting for Advent!

Saying thanks before meals is a good way to cultivate the consciousness of vocation.  In thanking God, as the source of our daily bread, we recognize that He works through the farmers, the bakers, the hands that prepared the meal, and everyone else involved in the vast network of mutual interdependence that is vocation.

Megamind

We went to the movies over Thanksgiving weekend and saw Megamind.   The animated parody of the superhero genre featured a supervillain who finds himself turning good.  It’s actually kind of Augustinian (existence is good, so evil is a privation of being).  It was also quite humorous.  But see it, if at all possible, in the 3-D version.  That technology works remarkably well with these modeled computer animations.  The visuals were spectacular, making better use of the new 3-D possibilities than Avatar, in my opinion.  It’s a movie that will please both children and adults and will corrupt neither.

This makes me want to start going to  movie theaters again, after a rather long hiatus.  Does anyone have any recommendations about the current offerings?

Justification as inclusion

Might justification by faith end up as just another weird idea those Lutherans believe?  That teaching–that we are declared righteous because of the Cross of Jesus Christ–used to be common to all Protestants, but it is under attack today, not just by liberal theologians but by evangelicals.

I was at the Evangelical Theological Society convention very briefly to give a paper on vocation. The overall theme was justification.  The keynote speaker was N. T. Wright, the former bishop of the Church of England, who draws on “the new perspective on Paul” to put forward a new view of justification.  According to Wright, Luther got it wrong when he thought that we are justified by faith in the sense of being saved from our moral transgressions.

Rather, justification is not soteriological but ecclesiastical.  That is, it is not about salvation from sin but about the inclusion of Gentiles into the Church.  When Paul talks about the Law that Christ frees us from, he does not mean the moral law; rather, he means the Jewish ceremonial law.   Here is how Christianity Today summarized his position a while back ago:

Justification refers to God’s declaration of who is in the covenant (this worldwide family of Abraham through whom God’s purposes can now be extended into the wider world) and is made on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ alone, not the “works of the Law” (i.e., badges of ethnic identity that once kept Jews and Gentiles apart). . . .

Present justification is the announcement issued on the basis of faith and faith alone of who is part of the covenant family of God. The present verdict gives the assurance that the verdict announced on the Last Day will match it; the Holy Spirit gives the power through which that future verdict, when given, will be seen to be in accordance with the life that the believer has then lived.

My impression is that many and probably most of the papers at the ETS took the traditional stance towards justification and criticized Wright’s position, though Luther and Lutherans were largely absent from the program.  Still, I heard that Wright’s reading of Paul Epistles is becoming a settled issue in New Testament scholarship.

The Christianity Today piece linked above sets up a point/counterpoint between Wright’s position and the traditional position articulated by John Piper (again!), who wrote a book criticizing Wright’s view.  Would some of you read the whole article?  Does Piper get it right?  (His seems to be a Calvinist take on the issue, full of “God’s glory” talk, whereas Lutherans would put some of this quite differently.  Where do you note the differences?)

It seems to me that Wright’s view of justification makes salvation a matter of works.  It also seems to lead to some variety of the social gospel–that the purpose of Judaism and now Christianity is to improve the world.  As such, it eviscerates the Gospel.

The notion that Christianity is primarily about inclusion sounds like the language of the ELCA’s latest dictate on homosexuality.  Perhaps it lies behind the megachurches that want to include all the people they can, regardless of what they believe.

At any rate, if the doctrine of justification is the article upon which the Church stands or falls, as the early Reformers insisted, today’s Church is tottering.

The Liberal Conspiracy Theories

Glen Beck has been pushing his conspiracy theories.  Now the liberals are doing it.  They are unable to imagine that there is anything wrong with their president or with their economic theories.  So many of them believe that the Republicans and their business allies,  to ensure that the president will not get re-elected, are deliberately sabotaging the economy.  From Michael Gerson:

If a president of this quality and insight has failed, it must be because his opponents are uniquely evil, coordinated and effective. The problem is not Obama but the ruthless conspiracy against him.

So Matt Yglesias warns the White House to be prepared for “deliberate economic sabotage” from the GOP – as though Chamber of Commerce SWAT teams, no doubt funded by foreigners, are preparing attacks on the electrical grid. Paul Krugman contends that “Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House.” Steve Benen explains, “We’re talking about a major political party . . . possibly undermining the strength of the country – on purpose, in public, without apology or shame – for no other reason than to give themselves a campaign advantage in 2012.” Benen’s posting was titled “None Dare Call it Sabotage.”

So what is the proof of this charge? It seems to have something to do with Republicans criticizing quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve. And opposing federal spending. And, according to Benen, creating “massive economic uncertainty by vowing to gut the national health care system.”

One is tempted to respond that it is $1 trillion in new debt, the prospect of higher taxes and a complicated, disruptive health-reform law that have created “massive economic uncertainty.” For the purposes of this argument, however, it is sufficient to say that all these economic policy debates have two sides.

Yet this is precisely what the sabotage theorists must deny. They must assert that the case for liberal policies is so self-evident that all opposition is malevolent. But given the recent record of liberal economics, policies that seem self-evident to them now seem questionable to many. Objective conditions call for alternatives. And Republicans are advocating the conservative alternatives – monetary restraint, lower spending, lower taxes – they have embraced for 30 years.

via Michael Gerson – Liberals resort to conspiracy theories to explain Obama’s problems.


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