Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and her administration were rightfully proud of the $300,000 they wrangled from the Metro Council last summer to retain a team of nationally renowned efficiency experts, who are helping identify systems improvements and savings to City Hall coffers.
Unfortunately, no one asked the experts about hiring a program manager to oversee the nearly $1.2 billion in road improvement projects the parish will undertake over the next three decades, thanks to a half-cent sales tax voters approved last fall.
Perhaps if someone had, Baton Rouge wouldn’t have two program management teams—comprising no less than 10 consulting, engineering and communications firms—to oversee one capital program funded by one revenue source.
How can this possibly be a good idea?
To understand how we got here, it’s important to remember that the program management contract for MovEBR will be the largest in Baton Rouge history. There has been intense interest around the contract, and lots of people who have the mayor’s ear offered suggestions about how the contract should be structured and how the firms should be selected.
Some thought it should be based on price; others on qualifications, with a contract price negotiated only after a selection had been made.
Then, there were those concerned about ensuring that minority- and women-owned firms, or DBEs, be given an opportunity to compete for a piece of the pie, estimated to be worth some $80 million or so.
There were valid arguments, however self-serving they may have been, on all sides. After a lot of back and forth at City Hall, a decision was made to split the list of 70 projects in the program into two—$800 million worth of capacity improvements, like road widenings, and $350 million worth of enhancements—with a separate project managers over each.
In theory, it might have seemed like a good idea, not in the least because it spreads the love and creates opportunities for lots of local firms to share in the spoils.
But now the administration has to figure out how to manage the managers. It won’t be easy and it cannot possibly be efficient.
Earlier this month, the city-parish engineering selection board awarded the contract to oversee the $800 million of capacity improvements to a team led by led by CSRS and includes HNTB, GOTECH, Franklin Associates, Civil Solutions, and Eduok Associates. To manage the $350 million in enhancement projects, the board selected a team led by Stantec that includes Harmon Engineering, Covalent Logic, Alpha Media, and Rannah Gray Communications.
Now that two teams have been selected, it’s time to negotiate contracts with each, which will involve establishing separate scopes of work, divisions of duties, fees, and timelines—without creating the duplication of services and superfluous redundancies that actually drag projects out and drive up costs.
One of the first challenges will be prioritizing the 70 projects. Most of those, 50 or so, are capacity projects. The other 20 are enhancements. Which get done first? Will each list of projects be prioritized separately by its own program management team, or will there be a more holistic approach?
If it’s the latter, does the administration determine what that approach will be and give the two teams their marching orders, or do the teams sit down together and figure it out?
Financial management is another potentially problematic issue. Though there are two program managers and two categories of projects, it’s all one program funded from the same revenue source. When $1 million in revenue becomes available which project will it go to? Will funds be divided 80/20? Or 50/50?
More importantly, projects have different cost curves. Some take longer than others. Some require more funding on the front end, while some don’t get costly until the middle or the end. Who will determine what the programmatic burn rate is for a particular project? For all the projects? Will they be analyzed holistically or in isolation?
Then there’s the issue of outreach. Part of the reason communication consultants are involved is because of the need to keep the public informed—both with what’s going on with their streets and with how their taxes are being spent. With two categories of projects that may overlap chronologically and geographically, who will be in charge of communicating?
Which of the several communications firms will develop the website that will contain important updates and information? Will there be two websites or just one? If one, who will be in charge of it and how closely will the two sets of firms work together?
These are just some of the questions the administration will soon need to answer. Let’s hope they get it right. MovEBR is too important to the future of Baton Rouge to get bogged down by having too many cooks in the kitchen. A lot of people went out on a limb to campaign for this tax and a lot of voters held their nose to vote for it. They do not deserve to be let down.
The decision to divide the program management into two may been done for valid reasons with the best of intentions. But you know what they say about the road to hell.