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An earlier version incorrectly implied that one of TVA's largest unions criticized the salary of TVA CEO Jef Lyash. The Engineering Association union is not associated with the U.S. Tech Workers' commercial and the union has not asked that Lyash be fired or his pay cut.

A workers group campaigning against the outsourcing of information technology jobs by the Tennessee Valley Authority in a new television commercial succeeded in drawing the attention of President Trump to their concerns this week.

But Trump's twitter response wasn't what the group wanted.

In a tweet, the president called the commercial a "strange ad" and denounced the commercial as "Fake T.V. Ads."

U.S. Tech Workers, a nonprofit formed to fight the growth of H1-B1 visas to foreign workers employed in U.S. data jobs, appealed to Trump to fire TVA's CEO for laying off U.S. workers and replacing them with contractors hiring foreign workers. In a 30-second ad airing on local cable TV outlets, the group sought to provoke Trump into action by publicizing points Trump has made at other times.

The ad highlights how TVA CEO Jeff Lyash is the highest-paid federal employee in America with an $8.1 million compensation package, or nearly 20 times the pay given to the president of the United States. Trump called TVA's pay for Lyash "a ridiculous FORTUNE" and "crazy" in his latest tweet, echoing criticisms of Lyash's pay he made in April when he said that TVA should cut Lyash's pay "by a lot."

In his campaign for president in 2016, Trump also pledged to bring back the jobs that businesses had shipped overseas.

"They wouldn't be doing it if I was president," Trump said during an appearance in North Carolina four years ago.

Nonetheless, the federal government-owned utility in the Tennessee Valley moved this year to replace about 120 jobs previously done by TVA workers in Chattanooga and Knoxville with contractors headquartered in other countries who are using some foreign tech workers in the United States working under H1-B1 visas.

Nearly half of those being displaced have already retired, left TVA or found other jobs at the utility. But 62 TVA employees are losing their jobs this summer, primarily among those employed at the TVA computer center in the Chattanooga office complex. Gay Henson, president of the TVA Engineering Association Local 1937, said the union expects TVA to notify another 38 tech workers at TVA by Friday that they will also soon be losing their jobs due to the outsourcing of their work.

The U.S. Tech Workers, along with labor unions representing TVA employees, have objected to TVA's move and want Trump and the U.S. Congress to order the agency to stop the outsourcing.

As an independent federal agency governed by its own board of directors, howver, the Tennessee Valley Authority hires its own staff and sets its own salaries, which Trump as president can't directly control.

Trump acknowledged as much in his tweet this week about TVA and his lack of control of that agency.

"Not run by the U.S., but I have long been fighting that crazy "salary," Trump said in reference to TVA's top salary.

Although TVA is outsourcing more than 20% of its information technology jobs, the work will still be done within the United States to ensure adequate cybersecurity, TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said. TVA conducted studies on how best to staff its IT operations over the past year, and Hopson said the labor unions representing workers in the IT operations were involved in that process.

Jeremy Fisher, vice president of information technology at TVA, said most other major U.S. utilities and other federal agencies such as the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Justice have made similar changes to use outside contractors that specialize in software development and can be more effective and efficient.

"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. "We're looking to leverage the market with people who have the expertise to help us deliver more technology to help move TVA along that path of continuous improvement."

The parent companies 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 largest government-owned utility has drawn fire from the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers union and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis.

Paul Shearon, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, blasted TVA for "sending pink slips to Americans and providing paychecks to foreign nationals" in the midst of a U.S. recession. Cohen is supporting efforts in coronavirus pandemic relief legislation to limit the ability of TVA to outsource jobs.

"In the middle of a global health pandemic and national emergency, it is incomprehensible that TVA would outsource jobs held by hard-working Americans," Cohen said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com.

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