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Major State Contract Firm May Add More Jobs in Tallahassee

By Tom Flanigan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-889366.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – The push to outsource some state government functions was underway long before the administration of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Since the late 1980's, a private firm has been doing more and more of the jobs that public employees would have done years ago. This particular contractor has become the biggest private employer in the Capital City. Yet many of the town's residents don't even know it exists.

Florida provides many services to its residents. When residents need to apply for these services and later have a problem, a question, a change of status or address, they'll often call a toll-free number or deal with the situation online. Since it's a state program, the service client may think there are state employees taking care of things on the other end. But there's a good chance they'd be dealing instead with Chuck Cliburn's company.

"Child support enforcement check processing project for the Department of Revenue, we're the third-party administrator for Florida Healthy Kids, we have a number of other state contracts and we also, to the surprise of many people, have a very large federal contract here in that we process all of the federal Department of Labor worker's comp claims."

Cliburn is the senior vice president and chief executive for Florida public sector service for Affiliated Computer Services, or ACS. The company's main presence is tucked away in a wooded glen off a winding, two-lane road several miles northeast of the Capitol. Despite its considerable size, you'd never know it was there if you weren't looking for it.

"Well, we have eight-hundred and fifty people approximately in Tallahassee. A majority of these folks are located at our complex on Killearn Center Boulevard. We have four large buildings, a campus there and probably about six-hundred people."
The rest of ACS's Capital City workforce is split between two other smaller locations. But that's only a small fraction of ACS's total worldwide operation. It's a $6-billion firm with 74-thousand employees. Cliburn says the astounding success of service companies like his isn't hard to explain.

"Governments, not just Florida, but governments across the country and the world for many, many years have used service providers for things that just make more sense for other firms to do to let governments concentrate on the things that they need to be doing, like governing."

But couldn't government agencies just beef up their existing operations and use public employees to administer their own programs? Cliburn says the economies of scale and specialization cause government agencies to look outside.

"They do turn to companies like us because we have experts in our company and expertise that we've gained from decades of experience in doing these types of things, not only across the United States but across the world in many cases."

Just one example of the state relying on a firm like ACS for its expertise and efficiency took place in late 2008. ACS got a five-year, forty-four million dollar contract to research patients applying for Florida Medicaid to make sure some other provider shouldn't pay first. It isn't always a smooth ride, however. Sometimes a contract requires putting together a fulfillment operation almost from scratch. The existing tools, technology and training may not be up to the task and there can be missed deadlines, cost overruns, angry clients and lawsuits. Cliburn says those are the kind of situations ACS tries to avoid.

"But there's some things that we just leave to other people. So if we go after a contract, it's because we're an expert at it. We can bring the expertise from some other state or experience that we have somewhere else and bring it to our client."

Now ACS faces a new, not altogether unhappy challenge: a merger with Xerox. Cliburn says it's not the first time he's been through a corporate combining, and he thinks this one will go better than most.

"Particularly when it's two companies that merge that are basically in the same field, they do the same things, have the same organizations overlapping, products you know and so forth. This is a much different case because the things that Xerox is good at, we typically don't do and vice-versa."

But it will give ACS, Cliburn says, the ability to do even more than it's doing already.

"On the horizon, business looks very good for us, particularly in light of our Xerox merger, and we will be making some announcements soon, publicly, on some exciting things that we're going to do here in Tallahassee that will bring a significant number of new jobs over and above the eight-hundred-and-fifty that we employ right now."

That's good news for state workers in Tallahassee, some of whom might be facing the prospect of a career change as state lawmakers eye a more than three-billion-dollar budget reduction.