Bureau Chief’s Note: This is the final article of a four-part series about the state of Tennessee outsourcing maintenance services to a private provider. You may read the first part of the series here and the second part here. The third part of the series, meanwhile, is available here.
Critics of Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and his initiative to outsource maintenance services at state-owned buildings say there’s no way to know if it’s saving taxpayer money, as it’s supposed to.
They also say that money is getting sent out of state because the private vendor that took the work, Jones Lang LaSalle, is not headquartered in Tennessee.
Haslam’s initiative is unpopular and will die in 2019, once his two terms are up, the critics add.
But JLL Executive Vice President Tom Foster said those assertions amount to nothing more than misinformation.
The people who don’t like this arrangement, including Randy Stamps, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, say they will not relent.
“When you start to examine the budget each year, the same amount is being spent, if not slightly more, on the maintenance of those buildings,” Stamps said.
“I believe they need to be more methodical in showing where they have saved money. All we ask is for a system to prove the outsourcing of services is more efficient and is saving money.”
John Dunn, spokesman for Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson, said no one in his office has studied the issue — yet.
“At the time of the prior audit field work (Spring/Summer 2016), the Department of General Services did not have enough data from JLL to analyze/evaluate the department’s claims of cost savings.,” Dunn said in an email.
“In addition, given that JLL was still new, not enough time had passed to adequately/sufficiently compare potential savings of the new JLL arrangement. Furthermore, the department had not historically maintained data from the state’s perspective to compare to costs under JLL.”
Foster, though, said state officials have already confirmed that taxpayers saved money.
As reported, the state’s first contract with JLL was enacted in 2013, and that gave the company the right to oversee maintenance at state office buildings in downtown Nashville.
A new contract was signed earlier this year that gives JLL the right to do work on state colleges and universities. Members of the Tennessee Campus Workers’ Union also oppose the arrangement. They did not return repeated requests for comment.
“Our calculations, which have been verified by the state, indicate that there has been a savings of more than $40 million and those savings have continued from Year One through Year Four,” Foster said.
“In no time has there ever been a situation where the state is paying more,” Foster added.
Regardless, Stamps called the initiative “trickle-out economics.”
“Why should Tennessee tax dollars be going to a company that is at least partially housed overseas? They also have an office in Chicago,” Stamps said.
“JLL subcontracts a lot of services to multi-national corporations to do work that used to be done at UT Martin. If staff there cannot do it some local vendor does it. That changes when JLL comes in.”
Foster responded with this:
“We have a presence here in the state of Tennessee. JLL has a regional office located in Nashville,” Foster said.
“We have more than 300 employees in the state, including 78 employed on the state of Tennessee account. I would argue that those funds are absolutely being recirculated back into the economy and salaries for employees. I’m not sure how much bigger a presence you could have here.”
JLL said in a press release that former state employees who transitioned to the company now make 38 percent more money than they did previously.
Stamps, however, insists this program’s days are numbered because too many members of the Tennessee General Assembly dislike it.
Justin Owen, president of the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee, said he disagrees.
“I don’t have the same crystal ball the unions apparently have, but if something works then we should stick with it, and if it doesn’t, we shouldn’t. The next governor and lawmakers should base their decisions to continue any outsourcing plans on the results, not on who can crow the loudest in their ears,” Owen said in an email.
“Just because a campus workers’ union has been very loud in opposition to this and has gotten a few legislators worked up doesn’t mean they are automatically right.”
From 2010 to 2017, Chris Butler was the investigative reporter and bureau chief of Tennessee Watchdog.
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