In a process that is behind schedule, state government has found a few companies willing to take over work now performed by state employees who manage government websites and deliver mail to far-flung state offices.
Decisions could come soon from Gov. Chris Gregoire’s administration on whether it would be more efficient to turn to the private sector for those services.
Those are preludes to a decision with more expensive consequences — whether to turn over more state printing to private companies. The state is about to go out to bid in that process, but it will likely fall to Gov.-elect Jay Inslee’s administration to make the final call.
In a sweeping reorganization law last year that created the Department of Enterprise Services, the Legislature required governors to review one to six services every two years to see if they could be done more efficiently by the private sector. It exempted that process from rules for allowing state employees to bid on the work.
Lawmakers mandated that one of the first subjects be printing, which has been the subject of periodic debates over whether the state should jettison its print shop.
Gregoire’s budget office chose to also look at two other services. One is the delivery of state mail outside Thurston County, now done by the Consolidated Mail Services program in DES. The other involves website and “e-government” services. Those include design and maintenance of agencies’ websites, plus online transactions and management of the state’s Access Washington web portal that links to other sites.
Decisions in all three areas were originally slated to be made between last July and October. But the bidding process proved more difficult than expected, said Roselyn Marcus, assistant director for contracts at Enterprise Services.
Typically, the state would have a project in mind and ask businesses how much it would cost to carry it out. In this case, companies are pitching projects.
“We’re going out for something that would cover any project that would possibly come in,” Marcus said. “…That’s taken a lot longer and taken a lot more input from a lot more stakeholders.”
All that is happening in a new department that contains parts of five other agencies. Marcus said future bidding processes would be easier.
In the end, Marcus said she was surprised that just five potential contractors bid on web services and just two on mail.
“We didn’t get many bids,” Marcus said.
The department declined to identify the bidders, saying that information falls under an exemption to public records law involving preliminary drafts and recommendations.
The request for printing bids, now due out the first week of December, could gather more interest than the others. Some in the printing industry have said private companies can do the work more efficiently, while public-union leaders disagree.
Some $7 million of the printer’s work is already farmed out to the private sector. Work being considered now for outsourcing includes more than $8 million in spending on bulk printing of big orders, storage and delivery.
In the other areas, the state is examining some $1.5 million worth of website maintenance and design and about $700,000 worth of mail pickup and delivery, which doesn’t include service within Thurston County.
Enterprise Services is finishing up its review of the mail bids for final review by the governor’s Office of Financial Management, which has already been reviewing the website bids.
Some bidders have offered to do solely web design and maintenance, said OFM’s Julie Murray, who is analyzing the proposals. Two bidders, though, offered a broader array of services including the e-government work.
OFM could decide to accept none of the bids if it doesn’t foresee cost savings or efficiencies.
Enterprise Services expects to release a request for bids on printing during the first week of December.