Is Everybody Happy?

Not everyone is happy with the outsourcing idea, especially those representing the county's IT employees.

Mary Grillo, executive director of Local 2028 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 60 employees affected by the transition, believes the county was too hasty in its decision to outsource and that conflicts of interest have tainted the county's economic analysis.

"The Warner report is severely flawed," Grillo said. "It misleads the public by stating the county is spending $100 million a year. We think they're not spending $50 million.

"Also,we're seeing a lot of problems in agencies that have already outsourced, like the library system," she said. "Instead of contracting out, why not do it with our own systems? Set the standards and invest internally. But they won't do it. There's no leadership."

Grillo also dismisses The Warner Group's analysis, saying, "The Warner Group stands to make $12 million off this recommendation. It's an inherent conflict of interest. The county didn't compete out their contract."

In response to Grillo's criticism, Larry Prior, San Diego's chief administrative officer, said, "Local 2028 doesn't want to have a rational discussion; they just want to kill the program." In a recent opinion piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune, he said the county has instituted performance monitoring systems along with an early-warning system to draw attention to problems within a department or with an outside contractor.

Still, county officials are sensitive to the issue of accountability. When Los Angeles County agreed to pay Unisys Corp., its welfare systems provider, $20 million for losses the company said it encountered after changes in the welfare law, San Diego's board of supervisors worried that a similar fate awaited it.

"When that happened, the board had us up that day in the office," said Helen Robbins-Meyer, deputy chief administrative officer for San Diego's community services group and chairwoman of the Information Technology Management Committee, an internal group that reports to Prior. "We reassured them that there's going to be a very controlled process for change orders, regular reviews of vendor progress and other management mechanisms in place to avoid what happened in L.A. But could we absolutely tell them that won't happen? No.

"Our board is questioning us constantly," Robbins-Meyer said. "They want to make sure we're doing this right. They're supportive in concept, but they won't let us do something without buying in that it's the right thing to do. We don't have carte blanche." And, she pointed out, Unisys didn't make the cut of prime vendors.

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