Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, colleges agree to outside review of outsourcing plan

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam answers questions during an interview Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Nashville.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam's administration announced Wednesday that it has agreed with higher education leaders to have an outside group review the Republican's privatization plan for building maintenance at Tennessee's public colleges and universities.

Haslam plans to release his "business justification" for his privatization efforts by the end of the month. The governor has said the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems would be given the choice of opting out of the plan and emphasized that any deal would preclude any reduction in the number of employees over the length of the contract.

The independent review should help dispel concerns that the state won't save the as much money as projected.

"I think it's important to have that outside, third party validator saying those numbers are real," Haslam told reporters.

In a joint statement, University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro and Regents Chancellor David Gregory agreed to consider the third-party review and said that no decision has yet been made on whether to proceed with the privatization proposal.

The Haslam administration said it has saved nearly $11 million in the first two years of having an outside company maintain 10 percent of the state's properties.

DiPietro at his annual State of the University address in Nashville on Tuesday said the school needs to be vigilant to protect against the influence of the "the long arm of the government" on university matters.

The university president said government "is reaching further and further and further into the operations of UT in matters such as our governance and structure, policy decisions, maintenance of our facilities and even programs designed to support our students and campus communities."

The Commercial Appeal reported last week that Dale Irvin, the vice chancellor for facilities services UT's flagship campus in Knoxville, said the governor's plan "would be a disaster for this campus. It would be a disaster for our students."

A projected $12 million in cost savings that the state would want to achieve at the UT Knoxville would require a 60 percent cut in equipment, materials and supplies, said Irvin, who served as part of an outsourcing "steering committee" on the governor's project team.

DiPietro issued a statement following media coverage of Irvin's remarks, calling them "regrettable, his own opinion and not the official position of the statewide university system."

Also Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about Haslam advisers considering the outsourcing of security at the legislative office complex, especially in light of the Republican House and Senate speakers' proposal to allow the state's half-million permit holders to be able to carry handguns in the building.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, said hiring private security to replace the Tennessee Highway Patrol would "add an increased threat to this body and to the citizens of this state."

A Department of General Services spokeswoman said that outsourcing security at the Legislature is no longer under active consideration. And a disagreement between the House and Senate speakers over the gun policy means that the guns likely won't be allowed at least until the legislative office complex is moved to a new building next year.