The more things change…


This weekend I took a trip to Ellis Island, which is operated by the National Park Service, in New York City.

While I expected to discover quite a bit about the conditions my ancestors endured when they passed through there in the early 1900s, I did not expect to discover a government contracting story that seems to prove the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

According to an exhibit at the history of the immigration station, after the original complex of wooden buildings burned to the ground in 1897, the Treasury Department ran a competition for a “fireproof” (masonry) building. With the contract awarded to the firm Boring and Tilton, Ellis Island became the first federal facility to be designed under the competitive procedures prescribed by the Tarnsey Act. The act allowed private contractors to design federally owned structures.

The exhibit also highlighted a couple of contracting problems that persist in government contracting to this day. Specifically, Ellis Island came in behind schedule and didn’t meet the needs of the workers there.

Construction began in September 1898 and was supposed to take 12 months, but, according to the exhibit:

Strikes, contract disputes, and a lack of skilled workmen delayed the opening of Ellis Island’s new buildings until December 17, 1900.”

In addition:

Officials working on Ellis Island complained about the building’s design and construction…Designed to meet the needs of 500,000 immigrants each year, Ellis Island actually had to accommodate hundreds of thousands more. Over the next quarter century, the island’s facilities, despite periodic additions, were sorely taxed by the growing surge of immigration.”


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