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Eye On Boise

Not the conventional wisdom

Legislative budget writers usually talk about saving money by privatizing government services, but this morning, the Department of Health & Welfare told them they could save millions by doing the opposite – “in-sourcing” a bunch of information technology workers who now are outside contractors.

“The state can save approximately $3 million in total funds over the next two and a half years,” Dave Butler, deputy director of management services for the department, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “We feel we can provide better service to the public as well as the divisions that we serve.”

Butler, who just joined the state a year ago after a career at Albertson’s, said when the state contracted out the work, it was a boom time for the high-tech business. “Y2K had us all scared,” he said. “I.T. professionals were in demand, commanding premium salaries on the open market.”

Since then, there’s been the dot-com bust, and a flood of new information-technology professionals entered the market. Demand, and wages, have dropped.

Butler said when he broached the idea earlier to lawmakers, they asked him “why I want to increase the size of government.” As a private-sector guy, he said, he’s learning that many judge the size of government by the number of employees. But if a higher employee count means less spending of taxpayer money, he said, “then I think it’s a benefit to each and every one of us.”

Lawmakers were leery. “You go against every magazine I get that says privatization of government services is the only way to go out there,” said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, JFAC co-chair.

Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, an accountant, said he wants to see all the figures. “I commend you for trying to save money – I think that’s wonderful,” he said. “I don’t want to discourage you in that in any way.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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