Employees designated for layoffs either remain at home or have been told not to do their work.
Employees at the Tennessee Valley Authority are stuck in a holding pattern as they wait to get called back to the office or resume their normal operations after President Trump intervened to end a planned job outsourcing at the government corporation.
While TVA—a New Deal era federal utility established for flood management, electricity generation and land management—announced earlier in August it would call off the outsourcing of about 200 information technology jobs currently filled by federal employees, workers already impacted by the first round of reductions in force have still not been called back to their positions. Those who remain on the job who were tasked with training their contractor replacements are still engaged in those efforts, multiple employees told Government Executive. The TVA workforce is mired in confusion, they said, as employees question why that training is still ongoing and why the contracts are still necessary at all.
TVA announced the reversal of the outsourcing plan on Aug. 6, just days after Trump fired then-Chairman James "Skip" Thompson. Interim Chair John Ryder and CEO Jeff Lyash met with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone before announcing the jobs would stay with federal workers.
“We were wrong in not fully understanding the impact on our employees, especially during the pandemic,” Lyash said. “We are taking immediate actions to address this situation.”
For Jonathan Hicks, however, those actions have not been immediate. Hicks, a software engineer at TVA, was sent home at the beginning of July in a non-work status after receiving his reduction in force notice. He was told he would remain on the payroll through August, but had to turn in his badge, laptop and credentials. Hicks has received an email gauging his interest in returning, but has not been provided with any timeline for his return.
Prior to being sent home, Hicks spent five weeks training his replacements. All of those individuals were contractors with Capgemini, one of four companies with which TVA has signed agreements. Hicks, a 19-year TVA worker, called it “less than ideal” to have to train those who were putting him out of a job, especially given their lack of technical expertise. None of the contractors had worked at utilities or on electric grid issues previously, he said.
Gay Henson, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers local that represents TVA workers, said the contractor training is ongoing for employees still on the job. David Harrison, TVA’s director for development and operations, told employees in April they would have to conduct the training as part of a knowledge transfer process and urged them to “demonstrate the professionalism you’ve shown to date when working on the transition assignments.”
“They still have our people teaching the contract workers, which is very confusing not just to me but to the workers,” Henson said. “What is going on? It’s been a couple weeks now.”
David Littlejohn, an IT operations engineer at TVA, was in the last batch of employees to receive a reduction in force notice, so he has yet to be sent home or train contractors. He has, however, received “no work” orders since TVA reversed its outsourcing plan. Littlejohn was instructed not to work on any projects unless an emergency arises.
“If it’s not an emergency, it’s just kind of, ‘Sit on your hands,’ ” he said.
Employees are confused as to why the contractors are still on board, he said, including his colleagues who are still training them for positions TVA now says will be kept internal. That, coupled with the orders not to engage in normal work activities, has employees questioning TVA’s intentions going forward.
“We’re trying to figure out what’s going on,” Littlejohn said.
Scott Gureck, a TVA spokesman, said officials are discussing the future of the contracts with internal stakeholders.
"Details are being worked out and more should be known in the coming days and weeks," Gureck said. Asked why the contractor training is ongoing, he added TVA could not stop all activities and work being transitioned to the contractors will continue "to ensure continuity and avoid risk to operations."
Henson and the TVA union have also voiced concerns about the federal corporation outsourcing jobs overseas. The contractors that TVA brought on have a history of moving IT jobs out of the United States, she said, and in the meantime her members have been training foreign nationals on work visas known as H-1Bs. Trump cited his opposition to replacing American workers with foreign nationals who earn less money in calling on TVA to reverse its outsourcing plan, and subsequently signed an executive order requiring all federal agencies to report their uses of H-1B visas.
TVA pledged to review its contracts to ensure compliance with Trump’s order and that “American employees have good opportunities throughout TVA’s employment and supply chain practices.” Gureck said TVA had 13 contract workers on H-1B visas initially, but those employees are no longer with the utility.
Ryder, the interim board chair, conceded TVA’s IT restructuring process was “faulty.” The federal entity originally used a process known as a “contract decision model”—what is known as an A-76 process in the rest of government—to assess whether the outsourcing plan had merit. To Henson, the acknowledgement that the underlying process that led to contractors coming was flawed is a signal those contracts should now be terminated.
She added that employees are starting to get antsy to know when they will return to work. Twelve employees were already removed from TVA’s rolls prior to its decision reversal, while others found new positions.
“Where are we on this?,” she said, summarizing the concerns she’s heard from members. “Why is my laptop not back to me? Why am I not back in the system? Why is this taking so long?”
Hicks, the software engineer, said he and his colleagues welcomed the news to keep the jobs internal, but remain worried about the future of the government corporation.
“It was really good news for us and for American workers in general,” he said. He added, however, the workforce is “extremely anxious about these other companies taking over the work. Stuff’s not happening, stuff’s not getting done. Nobody knows what is going on.”