Mass. CIO blames unions for IT hiring woes

But he said unions could play a useful role if they focus on providing training for members.

SAN DIEGO -- Massachusetts’ highest-ranking information technology official named public-sector unions as the single biggest obstacle to changing how governments hire and train IT employees.

“The whole thing ought to be completely decimated,” said Peter Quinn, the state's chief information officer, referring to unions' role in the public sector. He delivered his comments at an Oct. 18 session on outsourcing here at the National Association of State CIOs’ annual conference.

Referring to public-sector unions as a fourth branch of government, Quinn said they prevent change and are too concerned about maintaining the status quo. But he said they could play a useful role. He cited a news story about an Oklahoma bricklayers union whose new leaders are investing in training for members. With that strategy, the union's membership is growing, he said.

Governments are expected to outsource at least some IT functions to the private sector, according to several studies released this year. Outsourcing's supporters say the private sector can provide more advanced technologies and better workers.

Quinn spoke at a session on how the civil service system should be revamped to provide greater flexibility, more training and higher wages for IT workers.

Margarita Maldonado, an information systems analyst at California’s Justice Department and chairwoman of the Service Employees International Union Local 1000’s IT committee, said governments can use some forms of outsourcing.

But she said retaining work for public employees should always be considered because it can save some states millions of dollars compared with outsourcing. She added that outsourcing has downsides, including greater exposure to security vulnerabilities, additional project monitoring costs and opportunities for corporate corruption.

The latter point didn’t sit well with fellow panelist Greg Baroni, president of Unisys’ global public-sector business. Baroni said Unisys has always acted swiftly to deal with any employees involved in corporate wrongdoing. He countered that public-sector employees are also sometimes guilty of such transgressions.

Baroni defended outsourcing as a viable workforce alternative, saying it offers the benefit of accountability. If companies don’t meet service-level agreements, governments can recover some of their expenditures, he said.

Baroni said the private sector can respond faster, has more expertise to draw from and has more flexibility in hiring or firing workers than state governments do.

In New York state, Daniel Wall, commissioner of the Civil Service Department, said it is difficult to recruit people because the system was designed to be equitable in hiring and to combat cronyism. It wasn’t designed to be fast and flexible. Salaries, titles and careers are limited, he said, adding that it’s difficult to hire new employees for any positions other than entry-level ones.

In the private sector, Wall said, it takes 38 days to fill a technology vacancy. “In New York state, we weren’t doing quite that well," he said. But he added that the state is making some improvements in hiring -- using Web-based testing, for example.

Wall said hiring is a complex challenge and government CIOs will need to rely on every option available.

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