For eight months, local engineering and consulting firms eagerly awaited the outcome of a state procurement process to select a program manager for the $1.2 billion Watershed Initiative, a series of federally funded flood control projects around the state.
So some were surprised when, late last month, the Office of Community Development quietly notified all three teams that bid on the roughly $80 million contract—CSRS, AECOM, and New Orleans-based Henry Consulting—that it would enter into negotiations with all three of them.
Why such an unusual approach on such an important project, especially when the selection committee ranked the CSRS-led team as the clear front runner?
OCD Executive Director Pat Forbes defends the decision, saying he believes it will give the state leverage in negotiating a good price for the work. He notes that the Request for Proposals gives the state the right to negotiate with any number of bidders. It also says just because OCD will negotiate with all three teams doesn’t mean all three will get a piece of work.
“Awarding to three different firms gives us the ability to pick and choose what each is best at and use the services that each is bringing to the table,” Forbes says. “We will be assigning work through task orders as needed so it’s not like one firm will be running the whole show. That one firm is really the Watershed Initiative and we need resources to help us do multiple sorts of things … and some teams have expertise in places that might be better than others.”
Granted, two of the larger teams—CSRS and AECOM—each comprise several subcontractors and smaller firms with expertise in particular areas such as planning, design and outreach/communications. But Forbes insists negotiating with all three teams “will help us manage the cost better and manage the work better.”
Though Henry Consulting is not well known in Baton Rouge engineering circles, owner Troy Henry is well known in political and governmental circles in New Orleans, where he twice ran for mayor, unsuccessfully, and was involved in planning the future footprint of that city after Hurricane Katrina.
“Henry had a large role in engaging folks in the process of planning their future after Katrina and that is the scale of task we are facing with this program,” Forbes says. “So we feel that experience and knowledge is going to be helpful to us.”
While a skeptic might wonder if OCD wasn’t considering election-year politics when it made its recent selection, Forbes says nothing could be further from the truth. He also denies that OCD is trying to head off a potential challenge to the award—something that frequently happens in large state procurements—by agreeing to negotiate with all three teams.
“That certainly was not part of our thinking,” he says. “We think each one of these firms has different skill sets that serve different purposes. We hope now we can negotiate better prices, have better skills on board and go implement this program as efficiently as possible.”