Officials hope to streamline county procurement
By Dan Dolan
In an effort to tame raging construction costs, Miami-Dade County officials are launching a drive to streamline the way the county buys $2.2 billion in big-ticket items — everything from streets and sidewalks to sewage-treatment plants — each year.
Major elements of the plan being spearheaded by County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa should be in place by January. It would result in big savings, Ms. Sosa said this week.
"With construction, time is money," she said. "We hope to reduce the time it takes to get capital improvement projects from planning to groundbreaking by eight months."
According to county officials, key elements of the plan, being drafted by county capital improvements director Roger Hernstadt, include:
nAllowing the county manager to award professional service contracts, including engineering and architecture, in amounts up to $2.5 million. Now, the manager has a $1 million cap. Raising the ceiling, Mr. Hernstadt said, could cut procurement time from 120 days to 60 days or less.
nCreating a pool of prequalified contractors for smaller construction jobs. This would shorten the traditional bidding process, Mr. Hernstadt said.
nDoing all planning for a budgeted project at one time rather than step by step. Mr. Hernstadt said it's quicker to amend plans than to wait for final decisions on each stage of a project.
nGiving specific county employees responsibility for the progress of individual projects. Ms. Sosa said that would provide accountability and an early warning system to head off costly problems.
"The sooner you get a firm price, the cheaper the project will be," Mr. Hernstadt said. "We need to speed things up and make procurement more efficient."
Construction industry leaders agree.
David Peebles, director of business development for Coral Gables building giant Odebrecht Group, said "the key to managing price is managing the procurement process."
If things don't change, contractors will stop bidding for county work, said Mr. Peebles, whose firm has handled more than 15 Miami-Dade projects with a total cost in excess of $700 million. He said existing procurement procedures make it expensive to do business with the county.
Mr. Peebles said his firm spent $2 million to develop a plan for a rail shuttle to Miami International Airport. That project has been shelved for nearly two years, he said. Now, his company has little prospect of recouping its investment, he said.
"It's crazy," Mr. Peebles said. "Someone needs to reform this process."
New procedures proposed for Mr. Hernstadt's department are in place at the procurement department, which buys items like soap and computers. Ms. Sosa said the procurement department recently won national awards for efficiency. She hopes Mr. Hernstadt's staff will, too.