Aramark, the company that Michigan hired to save money on prison food services, seems to be making a pretty penny off the deal, propelling CEO Eric Foss to the head of the jet-setter class. Foss spent nearly $800,000 flying across the nation last year in the corporate jet — an amount far exceeding that of other members in his peer group of the top 100 executives in the country.
The private food vendor justified the expense claiming it was an efficient use of funds. Company spokesperson, Karen Cutler, explained to Bloomberg:
“Aramark’s board of directors established a policy in the best interests of the company for the CEO to use a company plane for all air travel for security and safety purposes — as well as to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of conducting business. Use of the plane is properly monitored by internal audit and the general counsel to ensure full compliance with all regulations.”
Foss brought down $33.8 million in compensation last year, of that $1.1 million was in the form of perks, including his liberal use of the jet. The average cost of CEO air travel perks in the U.S. is $272,180 — but then, Aramark isn’t your average company.
While the Aramark rap sheet of improprieties and corner-cutting contract breaches continues to grow at corrections facilities, public schools, and sports venues across the nation, they are reporting robust earnings, with the latest quarter’s profits clocking in at $59.8 million as compared to $12.9 for the same period last year. And the driving force behind their success? The lucrative North American market, which grew by 6 percent during the quarter, driven by sales cresting at $2.5 billion. The Michigan Department of Corrections is responsible for a tidy portion of those revenues under its $145 million 3-year contract with the vendor that, halfway through, is proving to be a dubious public policy gamble.
The newly appointed Director of MDOC, Heidi Washington, has been an outspoken critic of the quality of food service under Aramark. She didn’t mince her words in emails outlined in a Detroit Free Press report on the vendor based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
“At times I felt like Lansing thought I was just being too difficult and too demanding because I was always complaining,” Washington told a contract manager in one of the e-mails, in March of 2014. “However, I think everyone knows that’s not the case.
“Bottom line is lay down with dogs, get up with fleas.”
Gov. Snyder’s 2015 Criminal Justice Special Message on proposed MDOC reform measures carries a decidedly different tone from the past when it comes to privatization. The only direct mention of public-private partnership is for re-entry vocational training for inmates — an area where the support of the private sector is necessary if Michigan is to reduce the state’s cost of housing 43,000 inmates at $35,000 each per year. However, vague language in the report did leave the door open for possible future privatization schemes.
“I am calling for commonsense reforms to ensure that our jails and prisons are used efficiently and appropriately to best serve the public interest and reduce the cost of incarcerating so many people.”
It appears that at least some Republicans in this administration are beginning to understand that privatization isn’t the magic panacea they once thought.