Tennessee proposes buyout of some state employees after McKinsey study

Tennessee offered buyout packages to some state employees this week, a $ 20 million effort, officials say, will save money and promote “organizational efficiency” down the road .

The buybacks, called a “voluntary departure program,” were offered to around 625 eligible employees, though 282 positions are expected to be cut as part of the deal, according to a letter sent to members of the state legislature on Monday. by Juan Williams, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Resources.

The initiative is the result of an effectiveness study by the international consulting group McKinsey & Company, although Gov. Bill Lee’s administration has refused to publish a copy of the $ 1.5 million report.

Several people with knowledge of the study, who spoke earlier this year on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the initiative, said the report recommended that the state reduce its current number of senior executive positions.

Last year, the legislature budgeted $ 50 million for an upcoming buyout initiative, but reduced that figure to $ 20 million this year before implementation.

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Most targeted departments of environment, social services, finance and education

A few departments in particular are targeted for staff reductions, including 74 positions to be eliminated in environment and conservation, 64 in social services, 51 in finance and administration and 32 in education, according to the report. note from Williams.

Employees have until September 6 to apply for severance benefits, which include a lump sum payment equivalent to five months’ salary, early longevity pay, $ 6,000 for health care coverage and payment for unused leave. .

Applicants will be notified of their acceptance or rejection of the program in October.

When asked if the state intends to make unintentional cuts if it does not receive a certain level of participation from eligible employees, HR spokesperson Amanda Adams noted that the current program is voluntary.

It looks like the door is open for more cuts in the future, however.

“Some departments may take additional steps in accordance with their organizational plan at the end of the VSP,” Adams said in a statement. “Any employee who could potentially be affected will be notified well in advance and presented with all available options before the VSP deadline. “

The Department of Human Resources has not provided projections of how much the government expects to save in the long term. Employees receiving buybacks “generally” are not eligible to be rehired by the state for at least five years, Williams wrote.

In the letter, lawmakers were encouraged to contact Holt Whitt, the former acting chief of staff to Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, to ask questions.

Whitt was hired earlier this month as Senior Policy Advisor for Human Resources.

Contact Natalie Allison at nallison@tennessean.com. Follow her on Twitter at @natalie_allison.

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