Young, Pratt criticize city's use of consultants

Two of the city's top three elected officials are criticizing what they believe is an over-reliance on consultants within city government.

Both City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt voted against a $27 million on-call consulting agreement with three firms and the city's Department of Public Works.

The city's Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, approved the deal by a 3-2 vote Wednesday. 

"It appears that the city is continuing to outsource," Pratt said. "What the city should do is hire and train engineers to do the work that the consultants have been doing. I'm not not saying we don't need consultants, but consultants should enhance what the departments do. We should grow or hire some engineers, instead of spending $27 million outsourcing. I just think it's not a good use of city funds." 

Under the deal, the city's Bureau of Water and Wastewater for three years will pay up to $9 million to each of three consulting firms: Rummel, Klepper & Kahl LLC; Louis Berger Water Services, Inc.; and Arcadis US Inc. The contracts also contain a waiver that allows the firms to charge more than $27 million, if the administration deems it necessary.

"I didnt agree with the waiver," Young said. "I think we can get a better bang for our buck if we have the work done in-house. I'm just a little tired of the consultant work. I'm not against consultants, because I know we need them for certain jobs, but $27 million over three years is a lot of money."

The agency's Construction Management Division said it needs assistance from the consultants to keep pace with the massive construction projects it must complete to upgrade its water infrastructure under a settlement with the federal government. The consultants will monitor construction projects, review daily reports, maintain project records and assist with engineering and administrative support, according to the Department of Public Works.

Kurt Kocher, an agency spokesman, said it makes sense to use consultants for the work because they can do it "quickly, smoothly and with extreme professionalism." 

"You’re talking about a massive amount of work here," he said. "You’re rebuilding the underground sewer infrastructure." 

Since the projects will be completed within three years, it doesn't make sense to hire new full-time employees only to lay them off when the job is finished, Kocher said.

"It makes sense that you get the best people and have them available immediately," he said. "You don’t want to go out and create all new city positions for people and then have to take them away a few years down the line."

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