TV commercials ask Trump to stop TVA outsourcing of IT jobs

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Engineering Association/IFPTE Local 1937 Secretary Carolyn Wilson puts up a sign at Miller Park on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Members of the Engineering Association/IFPTE Local 1937 were protesting the announced layoffs of Tennessee Valley Authority IT workers.

A national organization opposed to importing information technology workers has taken to the airwaves to try to convince President Trump to stop the Tennessee Valley Authority from outsourcing much of its IT division.

U.S. Tech Workers, a three-year-old nonprofit that wants to limit visas given to IT workers coming into the United States, is blasting TVA for laying off its own IT workers and replacing them with contractors who are using foreign workers with H1-B1 visas to do the computer work in Chattanooga and other parts of the Tennessee Valley.

Kevin Lynn, founder of U.S. Tech Workers, called TVA's decision to lay off 64 IT workers last month and consider additional job cuts later this summer "really audacious" in the current market. Lynn and the ads his group developed target TVA CEO Jeff Lyash, who was paid more than $8.1 million in his first six months of the job at TVA last year.

"Of all the federal workers in America, Trump's highest paid employee should know better than firing American workers, and giving their jobs to foreign workers, especially at a time when the Tennessee and Alabama job markets have been devastated by coronavirus," Lynn said. "President Trump promised to put American workers first. Here's his chance."

In the biggest such ad campaign ever for the Washington D.C.-based Lynn said his group is spending more than $100,000 on television ads in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Huntsville where TVA jobs are being displaced and on a cable TV outlet in Washington D.C where Lynn hopes to catch the eye of the president.

"From a political perspective, TVA's layoffs defy common sense," Lynn said Monday as the group launched a three-week TV commercial campaign against TVA's current CEO and the utility's outsourcing of work. "At a minimum, Trump should fire Lyash for his incompetence relative to public relations."

But as an independent federal agency, President Trump can't fire the president of TVA, who is hired by a 9-member independent board appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to oversee America's largest government utility.

TVA says it has been working with labor unions and others on ways to improve the efficiency of its software development and IT functions for more than a year and is now preparing to bring its operations in line with others in the industry.

Although TVA does not expect the outsourcing to necessarily save money, TVA Chief Information Officer Jeremy Fisher said hiring specialized contractors "will leverage the market with people who have the expertise to help us deliver more technology" to improve TVA operations.

But the parent company of each of the three software development contractors being hired by TVA are headquartered outside of the United States. The software developers hired by TVA include CapGemini, which is based in France and has half its staff in India; the Canadian-based CGI, and Accenture Federal Services, which is headquartered in Virginia and is a subsidiary of the Irish-based Accenture plc.

The use of contractors with foreign headquarters for America's biggest government-owned utility sparked protests last month outside of TVA offices by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers union, one of TVA's biggest labor unions.

Similar outsourcing of IT has been done by major U.S. corporations such as Walt Disney, Southern California Edison, Abbot Laboratories and Northeast Utilities, along with federal agencies such as the Department of Justice and the U.S. Navy. Lynn said such firms use many foreign workers with visas and he questioned the quality of what is delivered and the economic toll it takes on workers losing their jobs.

"These visas are being used to displace American workers who are expensive, undeserving and expendable," Lynn said.

Lynn said TVA's change will bring "no cost savings, no improvement in work product and American workers replaced with foreign workers in the midst of an economically catastrophic pandemic." Laying off workers in the Tennessee Valley is contrary to TVA's mission, he said.

"The Tennessee Valley Authority was created after the Great Depression to spur economic opportunity for people living in the Tennessee Valley, not people in France, Canada and Ireland where the companies Jeff Lyash is hiring are based," he said. "Lyash doesn't seem to understand or respect the original mission of the TVA. Perhaps there's a leader in Tennessee, Alabama, or D.C. who can explain it to him?"

The TV commercial notes that Lyash is the highest paid federal employee with a compensation package worth up to 20 times the $400,000 salary paid to President Trump.

The labor union representing the displaced IT workers claims that TVA could end up cutting workers pay and benefits equal to $88 million over the next five years.

But TVA says it is offering jobs to many of the displaced workers and giving severance and job placement assistance to aid those who are ultimately laid off.

"The demand for technology has never been higher, but there is a natural constraint on that if you are trying to do everything in-house and on your own," Fisher told the Times Free Press earlier this year.

Contact Dave Flessner at

photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Engineering Association/IFPTE Local 1937 President Gay Henson, right, helps put up signs at Miller Park on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Members of the Engineering Association/IFPTE Local 1937 were protesting the announced layoffs of Tennessee Valley Authority IT workers.