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Indiana calls off Monster contract: Newspapers hoping to have some input about state job bank

March 20, 2006

The state's largest newspapers will have a second chance at weighing in on a state effort to create a new online job bank, thanks to a halt in negotiations between the state and job-search giant Monster.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development and Monster Government Solutions were close to finalizing a fouryear, $2.8 million contract for Monster to develop and maintain a statewide job search and recruitment system when the deal was called off in early March.

Monster would have been paid $2 million to develop the job bank system, plus $200,000 each year for four years to maintain the system.

Shortly after the contract was announced Feb. 1, the state's newspapers cried foul. Newspaper officials complained in a Feb. 13 IBJ story that the contract would amount to taxpayer-funded competition for their online job classified sites.

Newspapers receive up to 45 percent of advertising revenue and 35 percent of Web-related revenue from classified advertising.

The state and newspaper interests agreed that negotiations with Monster were called off because the state significantly expanded the scope of the project, not because of newspapers' concerns.

The state plans to issue a new request for proposals for the job bank in the next two months. Even though newspapers didn't kill the negotiations, the Hoosier State Press Association said it now has assurances the state will listen to newspapers' concerns as the new RFP is written.

The state is looking for a vendor to update and expand its job bank, which links the state's unemployed workers to state job openings and to positions at private companies that elect to post open positions. The system in use since 1998 is outdated and can be difficult and timeconsuming to use, said Joe DiLaura, DWD spokesman.

In November, the state issued an RFP for a "job matching system" that would upgrade the number and types of positions on the system, make it easier for Indiana employers to list jobs, and provide data and analysis for DWD staff.

Based on the short legal advertisement for the RFP, "there wasn't really anything in there that jumped out in the newspaper industry as anything that would be a threat," said Stephen Key, general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, a statewide trade group for about 175 paidcirculation newspapers.

However, when the state announced an impending contract with Monster Government Solutions, a McLean, Va.-based division of Monster Worldwide Inc., newspapers took notice of a major competitor getting a state contract.

Part of Monster's service would have, at the state's request, provided job-seekers the opportunity to pay a fee for certain services, such as resume help or notification when a job matching their skills became available.

That's what concerned newspapers, many of which offer similar services through their own sites and services such as careerbuilder.com.

"The question is, are we funding with taxpayer dollars a job bank in direct competition with other commercial job banks?" Key said.

He doesn't expect newspapers will jump at the chance to respond to the second RFP, because the state also needs data, such as job trends and information about the types of skills employers are looking for, that goes beyond what most newspapers are able and willing to provide.

But newspapers will press to make sure any contract signed doesn't require the winning vendor to provide fee-based services that would compete directly with newspapers.

The new RFP will ask for technological capabilities broader than what was requested in the original bid package, DiLaura said. The state had been developing a Web portal that would've integrated the services of several state agencies. For instance, a newly unemployed worker would have been able to use a single Web site to look for jobs and to determine eligibility for welfare. But that project was discontinued, meaning the winning vendor will have to develop the infrastructure for the Web-based jobs site.

The new RFP will also take into account the potential participation of other partners, including Ivy Tech State College, that recently came forward asking to be involved, DiLaura said.

Five companies responded to the first RFP, including Monster, which plans to renew its bid for the job, said Phillip Bond, general manager of Monster Government Solutions. The division provides some degree of services to 49 states and 100 federal government agencies, he said. When the company announced the state contract in February, it promised to boost its own employment at a 200-worker regional office in Indianapolis.

"If they want to broaden the scope, we will respond to that RFP and are cautiously optimistic we'll win it," Bond said. "Given our national scope and services, broader is better."
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