Wednesday, November 3, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Job security key to
privatizing services

By Craig Gima


Unless state and county workers are protected from losing their jobs, it appears unlikely that a consensus can be reached on how to best privatize some government services.

A committee made up of representatives from public worker unions, state and county governments and the private sector has been working on a bill to be submitted to the Legislature.

A final draft of the bill is scheduled to be completed by the end of the month.

But the Hawaii Government Employees Association says unless workers' jobs are secure, it can't support the proposal.

"We don't support anything that is going to put people out of work," said Garen Deweese, association representative on the committee.

But other members of the committee yesterday said privatization is likely to mean a smaller number of government workers.

"It stands to reason that if you privatize a function and if you still have the same number of employees you can guess that it's not going to be much of a savings or it's not going to be very efficient," said Ray Sato, chairman of the committee and the head of the state Department of Accounting and General Services.

State Budget Director Neal Miyahira noted that attempts to privatize services would not occur until after current contracts with government unions expire and issues surrounding layoffs would have to be negotiated.

Last week, Human Resources Director Mike McCartney proposed that voluntary separation payments, early retirement and retraining could be offered to workers displaced by privatization.

The committee also is looking at setting up a "managed competition" process that would allow government workers to compete with the private sector should an agency decide to privatize it.

The bill would encourage government agencies to evaluate which services can be privatized and set up a system to allow private companies and government agencies to bid on the service.

One area that still needs to be worked out is how to avoid conflicts if a department head has to make the final decision to privatize a service or allow current employees to perform the function. In some cases, that decision may be left to the state chief procurement officer.

Whatever the final form of the bill, Miyahira believes just the idea of competition will make government more efficient.

"The aim is to promote efficiency and effectiveness in government, it's not necessarily to outsource," he said.

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