Outsourcing State Jobs Hurts Tennessee Families


The Tennessean, Dec. 20, 2016

By: Rep. John Ray Clemmons

Rep. John Ray Clemmons: Governor Haslam spent more political capital on outsourcing than healthcare or transportation.

Gov. Bill Haslam is gambling with our tax dollars and Tennesseans’ lives. His outsourcing scheme involves eliminating up to 17 percent of current state employees’ jobs at state college and universities, parks and elsewhere. Outsourcing public jobs will result in great profits for private corporations but less oversight, lower quality, and the elimination of all accountability for citizens.

The tragic school bus accident in Chattanooga is an unfortunate illustration of this fact. Hamilton County Schools contracted with Durham School Services, a private company, to operate its school buses. After 36 injury crashes in Tennessee since 2014, Durham was still transporting children.

The schools’ spokeswoman curtly responded, “Legally there is no way that we could discipline someone who is not our employee. We’ve got 192 Durham bus drivers. Obviously, this is a bad one.”

Haslam’s steadfast outsourcing efforts, in the face of statewide opposition, stand in stark contrast to his other endeavors. For instance, his administration spent 18 months crafting Insure Tennessee, a plan supported by a majority of Tennesseans. Though Haslam publicly professed a passion for the cause, he exerted such little effort behind the scenes that he willingly raised the white flag to a vocal minority within his own party after less than three days of a special session.

The governor’s refusal to fight and expend any of his surplus of political capital ultimately cost the state over $2 billion in federal reimbursements and left over 280,000 Tennesseans without access to health coverage.

Consider also the governor’s handling of our state’s transportation funding crisis. Rather than bring several of us together to solve a well-known problem, he went on a “listening tour” before he finally acknowledged a problem existed in October 2015. More than a year later, there is still no comprehensive transportation funding package and only scant mentions of a gas tax increase. Meanwhile, I-440 continues to resemble a road in a third-world country, and our economic growth remains in jeopardy.

These lackadaisical efforts on healthcare and transportation are easily contrasted with Haslam’s exhaustive efforts on outsourcing, a solution in search of a problem. Our governor created a new office focused solely on outsourcing and focused the bulk of his energies on an effort to pay private corporations hundreds of millions of dollars to perform jobs that state employees already do well and reliably.

Sen. Lee Harris and I held public forums at University of Tennessee Knoxville and UT Chattanooga last year to hear from targeted state employees, as well as those who rely on them and their services.  A female student shared a story about a call she made to UT Facilities Services about a leak in her dormitory. Two men responded within minutes, but the repair took longer than expected due to a power outage during the repair.

Regardless, the workers stayed long after their shift ended and made sure that the electricity and the leak were both fixed before heading home to their families. Complete dedication to the task. Superior quality of services. Total accountability to the public.

Had the repairmen been employees or subcontractors of a private company, it is fair to speculate how this story could have played out. The plumbers may have departed at the end of their shift or possibly earlier when the power failed. Worse yet, a repairman with a shady past could have assaulted the young woman after the lights went out. When jobs are outsourced, we now know the state could respond to such an incident in a manner similar to Hamilton County Schools. “Legally there is no way that we could discipline someone who is not our employee. We’ve got 192 private repairmen. Obviously, this is a bad one.”

Outsourcing is dangerous. Tell Governor Haslam to stop playing games with our tax dollars and Tennesseans’ jobs. Tell him to focus on the issues that matter to Tennessee families.

John Ray Clemmons is a Democrat representing District 55, part of Nashville, in the Tennessee House of Representatives.