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Tennessee outsourcing reportedly saves taxpayers millions

Those state office buildings you see in downtown Nashville are kept up not by the state but by a private vendor, and that’s reportedly saved Tennessee taxpayers about $40 million.

There’s maintenance. There’s preventive maintenance. Then there’s security. Don’t forget the janitorial and landscaping services.

These are all provided by the private vendor Jones Lang LaSalle, which operates out of Nashville. The state has done business with the company since 2013.

JLL officials recently signed another contract to maintain state-owned buildings elsewhere.

But some state employees don’t care at all for what’s going on. They have a state legislator on their side. As you might imagine, they’re putting up a fight.

(Photo by Chris Butler)

The arrangement itself is unusual. Whereas other state governments use state employees for maintenance, Tennessee is the only one of the 50 known to outsource this work.

“Privatization is usually great for taxpayers when the government is trying to do something the private sector can do better,” said Justin Owen, president of the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank.

“It can usually be done cheaper and more efficiently than if government is at the helm. And as long as you have the proper amount of transparency and accountability, then you can ensure taxpayers are protected.”

David Roberson, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of General Services, said state government officials have more important priorities — like education and public safety, among countless other things.

“Building maintenance is not the core competency of state government,” Roberson said.

“Most of the major businesses in Tennessee already have a contract just doing facilities management, like Nissan and Bridgestone. All of them do this. The reason it is popular in the private sector is because it absolutely without question saves money and improves services.”

State Rep. John Ray Clemons, D-Nashville, however, says outsourcing is unnecessary and hurts state employees.

“I have been in office since 2014 and have not received a single complaint about a plumber, landscaper, or janitor at one of our colleges or universities,” Clemons told Tennessee Watchdog in an email.

“In fact, I have been told how the state employees are considered family members to students and faculty and how committed they are to doing the job correctly and on time.”

JLL’s Executive Vice President Tom Foster, in a Tennessean editorial column, said JLL manages exactly 10 percent of state properties, per the terms of the 2013 contract, which runs for five years. He also said officials from 15 other states are interested in what Tennessee is doing.

Justin Owen (photo by Chris Butler)

The outsourcing concept is generally credited as the brainchild of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

According to a Tennessee Department of General Services slideshow, before JLL took over maintenance, state buildings had high operating costs because state employees weren’t properly trained on how to manage them.

The Tennessee Tower, the slideshow went on, increased its occupancy by 1,000 people after maintenance teams “eliminated junk” and mismatched furniture.

Tennessee’s outsourcing program has won awards from the National Association of State Chief Administrators and the National Association of State Procurement Officers.

In our next article, Tennessee Watchdog will examine how a new contract will outsource services at state colleges and the outrage it has triggered among state employees.

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