Privatization Report at UNC Raises Problems, Few Questions

The report on privatization of housekeeping services at UNC-Chapel Hill, which was performed by Roesel, Kent & Associates in Atlanta, Ga., prompted few questions from the Outsourcing Steering Committe when it was presented on April 12, despite several problems with the report. While the report claims that privatization of UNC’s housekeeping services would not save the university any money and would, in fact, cost it an additional $59,620, the study does not look into cost savings the university might incur if it contracted housekeeping services to local businesses. Instead, it compares housekeeping services at UNC with two Florida schools – The University of Miami and Nova Southeast University – that privatized their services. Michael O’Brien, who presented the study and is president of Housekeeping Services at UNC, said that the university did not put out bids to local contractors because he did not think that contractors could provide the same services.

“Do I know from a factual point [whether they can provide these services]? No, I do not, but I question local contractors’ ability to provide services. Housekeepers bring more to the university than ‘come and clean my toilet.’ You don’t get that with a contract cleaner,” said O’Brien. O’Brien added that while some North Carolina schools contract housekeeping services, many of those schools were unwilling to cooperate with the UNC study because of the housekeeping department’s reputation for trouble.

The 18-page report, which reads more like a defense of the status quo and precedes a 24-page “Memorandum of Understanding” describing the purpose of facilities services at UNC, seemed to offer a built-in preference toward in-house housekeeping services. Ten of the 11 members of the “study team” that visited the Florida universities are employees of UNC-Chapel Hill, and most of those are employed in the housekeeping department. Also, the report stresses that the results contained in the report are based on continued improvements in the housekeeping department. “The cost comparison in this report is based on the continuous and successful implementation of these efforts and would be adversely affected if this course were changed or abandoned,” reads page two of the report.

While the report offered inconclusive evidence that privatization would not save the university money, it ensured that, if privatization were to occur, housekeepers would retain key benefits. These requirements, published by the Outsourcing Committee, are contained in the report.

The report also contains a list of “tasks and procedures performed by the housekeeping services staff” and a list of the “wide variety of spaces” over which these task are performed, neither of which relate to the study of privatization. In fact, the only advantage to privatization, the report found, would be shinier floors.

“My observation is that the quality of the services provided at [the University of Miami and Nova Souteast] is comparable to the quality of services provided at UNC-Chapel Hill residence facilities except that the hard surface floor care program at Miami was better,” reads page five of the report.

John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, said the absense of bids renders the report meaningless. “You don’t need to commission a study about whether to privatize services. If the bids look good, you privatize. If the bids don’t look good, you don’t privatize. You don’t need a study,” Hood said.