Haslam outsourcing review, implementation tied together

Critics of Gov. Bill Haslam’s efforts to privatize most state building management services say the administration should complete a promised independent accounting review of claimed cost savings before engaging with potential bidders in an experimental process for developing government contracts, reports the Times-Free Press.

082116charlie (Cartoon by Charlie Daniel.)

Instead, beginning Monday, the Republican administration is doing both at the same time. Democratic lawmakers and a higher education union official say that’s putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

“We’re still waiting on a promised ‘audit’ from the governor’s office that will prove that the claims they’re making about savings could happen and [which] are not already being done efficiently and effectively by folks in-house who are public workers,” Thomas Walker, a coordinator with the United Campus Workers union, said last week during a conference call with equally critical Democratic legislators.

The administration’s Office of Customer Focused Government claims the state can save $36 million a year by outsourcing 90 percent of building management in general state government and higher education.

The state’s real estate portfolio comprises more than 7,500 structures totaling 94 million square feet. Cleaning, repairing and operating them costs an estimated $550 million a year.

…While critics question why the KraftCPAs review and negotiations are occurring simultaneously, Michelle Martin, spokeswoman for the Office of Customer Focused Government, said officials are simply “gathering information through a multi-step, procurement process.”

Participants include representatives from the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Board of Regents, legislative and “general government leadership,” Martin said.

UT and Board of Regents officials are skeptical that contractors can operate more efficiently than they do already and have questioned some of the administration’s figures, including energy cost savings.

Regarding the simultaneous processes of the independent review and discussions with qualified companies on how to fashion the privatization contract, Martin emphasized that “conducting information gathering activities concurrently does not mean a decision has been made nor does it obligate the state to pursue a final arrangement.

“It simply allows the state to continue to gather critical data needed to make informed decisions as good stewards of taxpayer resources,” she added.