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Privatization of government services is a worthy goal at the federal level, as it is at the local and state levels. There are many areas in which private contractors, bidding against one another and against public agencies, can provide quality service efficiently and sometimes even at reduced cost. But privatization is not superior in every case and should never be pursued just for its own sake.

Last week, the Bush administration proposed rules changes that would make it easier for companies to compete with the government for maintenance, construction, secretarial and other types of work. And the administration identified 850,000 jobs - nearly half of federal civilian workers - that could be given to private contractors. . . . While the administration's goal of moving 850,000 jobs to the private sector seems overly ambitious, the federal government should pursue privatization wherever possible, with some conditions.

Those conditions would include keeping benchmarks in place to measure the effectiveness of private contractors, ensuring that public agencies would be able to bid for the work, and ensuring that health coverage and other workers' benefits and rights are not compromised.

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