Metro paying more than $51 million for consultants

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro is paying more than $51 million for outside expertise in how to run the transit agency.

The consultants are analyzing data, studying escalators, advising on SmarTrip farecards and even crafting requests for other outside contracts in the quest to keep the transit system running.

Metro's biggest consulting contracts
NameTermAmount
Parsons Brinckerhoff6 years$11,907,672
LTK Engineering Consulting Services1 year$10,339,502
Gannett Fleming/Parson3 years$8,487,432
AECOM3 years$7,490,110
Acumen1 year$4,040,945
Source: Metro

The transit agency is spending $51.9 million in current consulting contracts with 18 companies, according to Metro data from a public records request. The tally represents just a snapshot of the multilayered contracts that can last for as little as a couple of months to several years.

The contracts are happening as the transit agency plans to increase its staffing by 877 positions in the next budget year, bringing the total head count to more than 12,000.

The contract numbers don't include all the outside work the agency hires others to do, and it's not clear how many extra bodies the consultants add to the work force.

Some consulting work is issued by purchase order, not contract, because it is worth less than the agency's $150,000 threshold requiring a contract, according to Metro spokesman Dan Stessel. An approximately $70,000 report was not included from the American Association of Suicidology on ways the agency could deter riders from using the rail system to kill themselves, for example.

It also does not include the contracts for specific goods, construction or equipment for the system, such as the multiyear Red Line rehabilitation project, the order for new rail cars, or even smaller items such as an outside print job that the agency cannot do in house.

Metro is relying on the consultants for situations in which the transit agency needs "scarce" skills for specific engineering work, analysts to generate independent studies or expertise in crafting contract requests, Stessel said. He said the agency is trying to use the consultants to efficiently get Metro through periods when there is a spike in demand for particular work.

"Where we are using consultants to augment in-house staff, we will try to hire personnel and develop them if we believe there is a long-term need for the skill," he said.

Some of the firms are so integral to Metro that they are given abbreviations in the agency's annual budgets, decoded in an attached glossary. Contractor Booz Allen Hamilton is listed as BAH.

Major consulting projects predate Metro's recent revitalization push under General Manager Richard Sarles. A one-year Booz Allen contract that ended in June 2010 cost Metro $28 million for rail and vehicle engineering work.

But such outside contracts have been an issue between Metro and one of its smaller unions, which represents about 700 white-collar workers. Metro is challenging in court an arbitration decision limiting the agency from hiring contractors in place of union workers.

The Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 2 has noticed that Metro has contracted out a lot of work for information technology, procurement, construction design and inspections that its employees used to perform, according to its attorney David R. Levinson.

"A lot of contracting is appropriate if it is a temporary thing they need to bring in for something or someone very specific for a short period of time," Levinson said. "When they have people here year in, year out, that's different. It doesn't seem to make financial sense."

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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