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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.”

Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.