In a crowded hotel conference room on a beautiful winter day in Tempe Arizona, the best time of year in the American Southwest, I sat and prepared to listen to someone I thought knew little about what I did, would tell me something I had heard many times before and did not need to hear again. This skepticism came from my years of experience as a consultant, contractor and construction estimator. I was working for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the government entity that was responsible for overseeing environmental issues for the people of our state. I had administered contracts for the agency and could not imagine that I would be hearing anything of any relevancy to my job and my responsibilities.
Dr. Dean Kashiwagi slowly melted away the cynicism I first felt. His simple explanations of processes based upon self-evident facts or as he calls them “natural laws that are dominant” appealed to me. As he built the foundation that is the basis of Best Value, the utility and simplicity of the process became clear. At each of the scheduled breaks I cornered those in the audience who were already practitioners of Best Value and pressed them, how did it work for them, what were the pitfalls or their successes. Each person I spoke with had a different take, but each person spoke of the rewards of using Best Value. I owed this opportunity to the forward thinking head of procurement at the agency. The agency was in the process of reimagining itself and with her support and others who were captivated by this concept, we decided to institute Best Value for our programs.
The two areas that I was directly involved with in which we applied Best Value for our contracts were the State Superfund Program, called the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund or WQARF and the State’s Brownfields program. Superfund is named after the Federal Program that collected a tax on raw chemical products to be used to remediate or clean up properties and groundwater that had been contaminated by hazardous materials. The State of Arizona version of this program focuses on clean up and protection of groundwater, a key resource in a state that only receives on average 33 cm of precipitation per year. Brownfields are properties that because of contamination from hazardous materials are not developed and lie fallow and become burdens upon communities, thus they are called brownfields.
Arizona’s WQARF program is funded through funds collected from a tax and distributed to the program by the legislature. The program receives annually on average about 7 million US dollars. In Fiscal year 2015 the program addressed 33 Listed Sites and investigated 35 Preliminary Investigative sites. It treated or oversaw the treatment of over 6 billion liters of contaminated water, removed over 725,000 kg of hazardous substances, drilled over 30 new wells, collected over 3,000 samples and held 35 public meetings.
Clean up is expensive and the demands upon the funds great, so the biggest impediment to addressing these contaminated sites is the limits in funding. Efficient use of funds was an imperative, use of Best Value became critical for the agency to meet its mission, “to protect and enhance public health and the environment in Arizona.” The greatest challenge for a regulatory agency is its responsibility to ensure that the law and proscribed procedures are followed.
There were many challenges bringing Best Value to a governmental agency, all of which requiring a paradigm shift. First we were mandated to meet procurement code, we had to make sure what we did was within the statutory requirements. Then there was the change in understanding on the part of the project managers for the program. Instead of telling contractors how to do things with lengthy specifications, we were telling them only where their actions were to end up. This is never easy in an environment where control is considered part of your responsibility.
This adjustment was equally as large on the part of the contractors. Usually being directed on what and how to do something, the Best Value concept, “you tell us how you will do it” was dramatically different. For many of the contracting firms, when they assessed risk they based it upon what they were instructed to accomplish. The concept that they would be the party to determine what path to take was difficult. Some companies could not make that transition. It is easy to see that Best Value meets the definition of being “disruptive.”
We held multiple meetings with all the parties. With the contacting community we needed to educate them how to present themselves when bidding projects under this system. They were asked to prove themselves experts. This was not the simply present your Statement of Qualifications, we asked them to verify what they could do and how well they do it. Rather than ask their VP of marketing and general manager to present themselves we asked for the key Engineers and Project Managers that would be working on our project to explain how they would tackle the tasks.
Then there were internal meetings, “don’t tell the chief how to cook the meal, just tell them what you want to eat.” We needed to put aside favoritism, open the process to all eligible firms. We needed to change from a command control mentality to one of just oversite. Best Value works on the concept that true experts can solve problems easily, quickly and for less cost. But it also requires an understanding on how to identify a true expert, how to identify goals without controlling the process and how to support actions without interfering.
The program is progressing. There are still issues with the Client/Service provider relationships. Firms are still working out what it means to take over the direction of projects and the program is still learning to let go of what is the contractor’s responsibility and how to become active yet unengaged overseers. The program under Best Value has made more progress in regulatory milestones than in any other period in its history. They are staying with Best Value and learning how to make it work for them.
08 February, 2016