The CEO of the company managing most of New Orleans’ 600 recovery projects has recommended to Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu that he speed up rebuilding by breaking down walls between city bureaucrats and contracted project managers particularly in the area of financial planning.
Under its contract with MWH Americas, Inc., the city pays hourly rates for 59 of the company’s consultants. The contracted employees, most of whom who earn wages well above their colleagues in the public sector, work out of offices in the Amoco Building, across Poydras Street from City Hall and just a few seconds in a elevator from the leased city offices that handle the bulk of the recovery projects. But while no one would argue the two groups of recovery workers can’t find each other, Uhler believes the recovery’s complex cycle of implementation, review and rubber-stamping would proceed faster if his company’s employees worked side-by-side with their public sector colleagues.
“We think the process would move faster if instead of the project work being parceled off, the project managers, city staff and financial planners co-mingled. Ideally, they would share a physical location,” Uhler said in an interview last week.
The tip was one of several shared last week in a face-to-face meeting in New Orleans that ended with nothing decided, but a few ideas broached that could mean big behind-the-scenes changes for the city, mayoral transition team spokesman Todd Ragusa said Friday.
If MWH workers were embedded within city recovery offices, it would not be the first time. Already, employees of the Colorado company work within the Department of Public Works, managing city utilities and roads with city employees.
The recommendation was one of a handful made public by Uhler during an appearance at City Council chambers, where he was responding to allegations of overbilling and impropriety made by Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux. The suggestions ranged from putting more emphasis on long-term financial strategy to creating a plan to maintain capital assets and another to increase the capacity of city staff.
“I believe there has to some thought on where the city wants to be in skill capability three to four years out,” he said.
Without a comprehensive maintenance plan, he said the city’s facilities would also be in trouble soon.
“There has to be thought on how to keep these assets youthful,” Uhler said.
Voiced in a concise yet relatively broad presentation, the suggestions hinted at serious doubts about the city’s long-term management capabilities. He deflected criticism of his company’s own role in slow progress by enumerating 13 points during the course of a project when anywhere from five to seven city offices must sign off for work to continue. He recommended the city do a study on its decision-making process to see whether there are checks and balances that could be eliminated to allow for a more efficient process.
“The number of decision points in the city is extremely large compared to other places where we have worked,” Uhler said. “And that’s based on a history of desiring to have more people involved in decisions to have more checks and balances. I do believe the city has hard-working, efficient people, but they are hurt by an inefficient process.”