State sells out information technology employees

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2000

On May 8, the state of Alaska notified three unions representing employees who work for the Information Technology Group (ITG) that a California consulting group has assessed state government telecommunications requirements to develop a request of proposals (RFP) to attempt cost savings by offering private-sector companies the opportunity to do the work currently done by some 56 employees - 29 in Anchorage, 19 in Juneau and eight in Fairbanks.

Then, in two meetings with employees in Anchorage and Juneau, May 8 and May 9, Commissioner of Administration Robert Poe and representatives of the consulting firm (which is being paid some $400,000 to analyze state telecommunications operations) explained the process underway and what employees might expect.

Some of us who work for the state are still in shock. We had just seen this commissioner tirelessly sing the praises of state workers around the state and to the Legislature, arguing for funding of our contract. Then as soon as he regained his breath, he turned to those of us working in his own department and said that we can expect to lose our jobs if he can find somebody else who can do it cheaper.

This whole process of analyzing our work by a private consultant for consideration by private telecommunications vendors was described as ``chumming for sharks'' by one union business agent. It has been an insult to those of us who have worked to serve the public at the help center, in the technical trenches delivering services and trying to urge upper management to do things which will help the system run better, cheaper and more efficiently. Why couldn't the Knowles administration have come to us and asked our suggestions for improvements, cost-effectiveness and increased levels of service, first?

It has been said that a consultant is somebody who borrows your watch to tell you what time it is and then keeps the watch. My ITG associates, and myself, know that the difference between what the state pays for these services, and what some ``partnering'' consortium pays, will be the difference between having public servants guarantee the security and capacity of the system over private employees not subject to the protections and requirements of state personnel laws. Additionally, we know that management decisions over the years have contributed to the inefficiencies which will be identified by the consultant firm hired to build the ``Trojan Horse'' RFP invitation. Then the ``open for business'' Knowles administration will offer the system up to every gypo computer nerd operation that ever dreamed of hacking into techno-immortality with a client having $25 billion in its deep pockets.

As proposed, the RFP breaks out the state's various telephony, data network services, video services, paging services, cellular services, satellite transport services, support services and the state's SATS Microwave System for bidder consideration as a whole package. The scheme seems to be one of forcing all the quick-buck artists to cooperate in delivering a proposal that will let the state hand over the keys to a publicly-owned resource and take if for a drive in exchange for putting some gas in the tank. Where it is driven to, what condition it is in after four years, and who pays for who gets run over, are all a part of the mysterious never-ending Knowles' political quest for higher office.

Additionally, it's an affront to us professionally after watching the former administration commissioner, Mark Boyer, take a job with a state vendor in California, followed more recently by Mark Badger, director of ITG to work at the same company. We have to wonder why any of our clerical support staff should expect to be maintained as state employees in Juneau if their functions can be data-streamed to some other location?

As a union steward, I have been advising my co-workers to start looking for other employment. Sure, the commissioner has said our jobs are unique and we can expect to be employed by the bidders. But this whole thing smells. It's like a new chapter of a book written by Alaska's former U.S. Sen. Ernest Gruening, called ``The State of Alaska.'' He discussed the history of this great state and how it has been a resource warehouse for opportunists who come here only to take whatever they can get away with.

The economies of local communities and people who live here and depend upon state services deserve better.

Bill Beyer is a union steward for ASEA/AFSCME Local 52 and a 10-year state employee of the Department of Administration help desk in Juneau.

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