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Feeling the Pinch

State employees are trying to find ways to save taxpayers money that don’t include cutting “services” or laying of more government workers.

With a struggling economy and directives from Gov. Bill Haslam that each of Tennessee’s nearly two dozen departments re-examine every facet of what government does, state employees are chipping in with ideas for eliminating waste in hopes their jobs will be spared.

In fact, there are nearly 100 suggestions sitting on Bob O’Connell’s desk.

O’Connell heads the Tennessee State Employee Association, which is offering up to $500 prizes to employees whose cost-saving measures are adopted and save the most cash.

“We understand both the governor and the administration’s need to cut expenses and the public’s general wish that their pockets are not hit so hard,” O’Connell said. “In the end, if we are able to save enough money and make it obvious that services don’t need to be cut to save that kind of money, there shouldn’t be such a need to lay off state employees.”

The governor was elected on a promise to make government keep focused on the bottom line, which includes re-evaluating what the state does and how many people it takes to do it.

Each commissioner in Haslam’s cabinet is now conducting a “top-to-bottom review” of his or her department. One such review led to shedding 60 employees from the Economic and Community Development office.

The governor also supports restructuring the state’s purchasing practices — a reform that has saved the state of Indiana as much as $57 million since 2006.

The main idea there is to leverage for lower prices on bulk purchases like office supplies and computers by buying the items for all state agencies at once, said Nicole Kenney, Indiana’s deputy commissioner of procurement. Officials then negotiate multiple times over one contract to ink a deal for a lower price than what the vendor originally proposed.

Before, “you didn’t even question the price,” explained Kenney. Now, “we squeeze them as much as we can until they stop moving and we can’t do any better,” she said.

Savings could take years to build up, said General Services Commissioner Steve Cates, who is in charge of managing the state’s property.

“I have found areas that have almost 150 unique contracts doing the same thing,” he said. “You could have a lot fewer contracts and work on benchmarking with where the best prices are.” Meanwhile, his office is also brainstorming ways to better manage the state’s 6 million square feet of owned and leased office space.

If the state can save $1 or so per square foot a year, that’s millions of dollars in the bank, Haslam said.

“None of (these ideas) were something if you were on a campaign you’d run on, but all of them you go, ‘Oh, they make sense,’” Haslam told TNReport. “We keep chipping away to make it cheaper.”

The commissioner said he was not aware the TSEA hopes to propose a cost-savings action plan of its own, which is set for release in January.

“Obviously, for every dollar that you save in a support project, you will save additional dollars to go out in education, health care or public safety. It’s critical because those are dollars you can put in to the mission of the state,” Cates said.

Suggestions the TSEA has so far received from state employees include:

  • Consolidate office spaces
  • Use video conferencing to reduce travel costs
  • Perform energy audits at all state work sites
  • Eliminate or reduce paperwork used for the state’s accounting system
  • Let state employees perform tasks now contracted out
  • Allow licensed practical nurses to perform duties now assigned to higher-paid registered nurses
  • Require employees to use state vehicles when traveling for state business instead of reimbursing employees for mileage and automobile wear and tear

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