After reading your articles regarding our recently approved agreement with Earth Tech Inc. for CIP management services, I thought it would be worth offering a perspective on the basis and approach being pursued for this effort. Your recent article quoted several criticisms of the City's pursuit of this project, and I would like to respond to the specific points raised:
First, it was suggested that hiring a consultant should be unnecessary and that the work could be done by existing Public Works staff. Let me respond to this suggestion in two parts - first on the question of staff expertise within the Department of Public Works. I am extremely proud of the expertise and dedication of our Public Works staff, and no element of this project should be interpreted to the contrary. That said, many among our staff could be the first to say that improvements can be made to our capital project delivery processes. Unfortunately, any perception that the solution is for the "engineers" (or other Public Works staff) to work harder and smarter misses the fact that in any public agency, the CIP process is inherently long and complex and relies upon numerous parties outside the department and often outside the City.
As an example, CIP projects routinely involve the following basic steps: (1) needs assessment and analysis of alternatives, (2) conceptual design and cost estimation, (3) CIP budgeting, (4) project design and construction specifications, often by a consultant, (5) environmental review, (6) plan check and issuance of permits by responsible agencies, (7) construction contract advertising, bidding, and award to a contractor, (8a) construction, (8b) design changes and inspection, and (9) closeout/final accounting. Pushing a project through this process requires involvement from numerous departments within the City, ranging from the "client" department and/or the public, to financial, legal, and zoning/building entities, as well as often external regulatory and funding agencies. Earth Tech will be in the unique position to look at the big picture at how these steps are carried out and where efficiencies can be gained for the variety of projects we undertake . This is a critical issue, one which we simply did not want to try and "fit in" between other assignments. At the same time, soliciting and evaluating input from City staff is a central element in Earth Tech's scope.
The second part of why we chose to engage a consultant relates to the role of an outside consultant, versus in-house staff. Perhaps obviously, consultants are often hired due to limited in-house staff resources. However, consultants are also hired when they have developed a specific expertise that cannot typically be developed within the routine workload of a City, or when it would be advantageous to have an objective third party, unencumbered by established policies and with little to gain from a particular outcome. Both are the case here. Earth Tech has broad experience working with a variety of agencies every day, each with its own internal procedures, and is therefore uniquely positioned to evaluate and recommend alternative means of improving City of Long Beach CIP processes. Engaging Earth Tech also has the advantage of impartiality, which is critical given as noted above that numerous parties must 'buy in'! to their conclusions and subseq uent procedural changes. This might be impossible if the recommendations originated exclusively from Public Works staff.
In recognition of the issues above, the City Manager's office has initiated a focused effort to enhance project management skills, as well as streamline the processes and tools available toward this objective. The Earth Tech agreement is a critical step in this direction, and demonstrates the City's interest in improving our ability to complete projects as quickly, economically, and with the highest quality possible. The two scope of work elements address this focus in complementary dimensions. The first will tackle the systemic issues associated with how we conduct the business of delivering capital projects. The second will immediately enhance our project management resources, while working specifically toward better clarity, consistency, and thereby efficiency in Public Works Department consultant project management.
Finally, it was suggested that having funds available in the current budget for this project, specifically the CIP evaluation, means that we were overbudgeted. Please be aware that funding for this effort has been largely made available by the ongoing vacancy in the position of City Engineer, who retired in late 2000. Inasmuch as our Engineering Bureau staff, particularly our division managers, have been aggressively pushing a full workload without a City Engineer, this project has the promise of long-term improvement as a reward for their ongoing sacrifices.
I hope that you find this information is useful, albeit a bit longer than you would typically see in an agenda report. Reasonable people can certainly disagree with the prudent course of action for any given circumstance, but I thought that you might appreciate a more comprehensive set of background information. Thank you for your continuing efforts to improve the service we provide to our community.
Director of Public Works