Gov. Bill Haslam's administration is forcing 1,600 information
technology workers across state government to re-apply for their jobs in
an effort to screen out those who can't master the skills of a rapidly
The state employees association said IT workers
are nervous. But the state's chief information officer said most of them
don't need to worry.
"This is really not about getting rid of
people," Mark Bengel said Wednesday. "It's about making sure that we do
have the skills and we have the ability to develop and retain staff in
He said Science Applications International Corp., a
consulting firm, has started looking at 23 state agencies' IT operations
and analyzing the gap between the skills employees have and the ones
they need. Most of its recommendations won't take effect until the
2014-15 budget year.
"Technology is moving so fast that skills are obsolete in the blink of an eye," Bengel said.
changes come in the wake of several large-scale computer system
problems that have hindered operations in various state offices,
including the Department of Children's Services, the Department of Labor
and Workforce Development, and the Department of Human Services. The
state's "Project Edison" system, launched in 2008 to bring outdated
payroll, accounting and vendor tracking systems into a single,
integrated system, was rife with glitches for a couple of years.
told The Tennessean last fall that some computer systems were "in the
ditch." In part due to those difficulties, the governor has established a
Business Solutions Delivery office to centralize IT expertise as the
state embarks on contracting for future projects.
Bengel said the IT challenges at some of the departments "certainly contributed" to the restructuring decision.
year ago, Haslam steered legislation through the General Assembly to
rewrite civil service rules and allow the state to lay off employees
based on job performance instead of straight seniority.
to a state Office of Information Resources memo obtained by The
Tennessean, each state agency with IT operations "will receive a draft,
standardized organizational structure that has been aligned with the
mission of the agency. This draft organizational structure will be
populated with newly created IT job classifications."
says people who already have state IT jobs and meet minimum
qualifications "may apply and be interviewed for the new
"Interview preference will be given first to
impacted agency staff, second to impacted staff from other agencies,
then to any qualified State employee," the document adds. "If an
employee applies for but is not hired into an available position, the
agency will either reassign the employee to a vacant position for which
the employee does qualify, or the employee will be affected by RIF."
"RIF" is short for "reduction in force," or layoffs.
'A lot of stress'
Robert O'Connell, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees
Association, said the threat of upheaval "creates a lot of stress" for
IT workers forced to reapply for jobs they've held for a while.
feels bad," he said. "Basically what somebody in that position is being
told is, 'You have lost your job, but there's another one over here you
might qualify for.' "
Lola Potter, a state spokeswoman, said the
memo was "part of an ongoing dialogue" with state IT employees, who
helped develop some of the "staff classifications we have identified to
help us recruit and maintain IT staff."
Bengel said the state
expects to spend $6.5 million on IT training over the next 18 months as
it struggles to compete with the private sector and a low unemployment
rate for skilled IT workers.
"The only way we're going to be able to compete is to grow our own," he said.