Consultants Collect Millions At Miami-Dade Airport

Consulting is a booming business in Miami-Dade County -- at least judging by the bills that taxpayers foot.

County Manager George Burgess released two reports, one last week and another shorter one Monday, that show hundreds of active contracts for management consulting services -- mostly at Miami International Airport -- along with architecture and engineering work.

The total: $826 million.

The report shows that only $356.4 million of the total had been spent through June 2006.

The contracts vary in length.

Other consulting jobs outside those fields such as nonmanagement jobs in the information-technology field, were not included.

The airport contracts alone total at least $652 million. MIA is currently undergoing a $5.2 billion face-lift that is more than $1 billion over budget and years behind schedule.

Aviation Director Jose Abreu said almost one-quarter of the consulting fees at MIA, or $160 million, had already been paid by American Airlines when the county took over construction of the airport's North Terminal last year.

He defended the spending, saying it's simply the cost of doing business: "Some of those are architects and engineers that actually do the work. They do the plans, they're licensed," Abreu said.

Though county officials on Monday could not break down the amount consultants will be paid in the upcoming budget year beginning Oct. 1, it's safe to say it's millions of dollars, County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez said.

"The size of government has been getting out of control," Martinez said.

Martinez has railed against consultant fees since taking office in 2000. He demanded the report from Burgess, convinced that a government with 30,000 workers and a $6.89 billion budget must have qualified personnel to do at least some of the work.

'A WASTE'

Martinez cited Agustin Lugones, 56, an architectural supervisor in the General Services Administration office. Lugones created the prototype for two county libraries that are now being built and three others that will be built soon.

"It's such a waste of millions of dollars a year that could help our citizens. Right now between taxes and insurance, they're [citizens] being choked," Martinez said.

Three firms hold a good chunk of the contracts, the report shows. Dade Aviation Consultants and HNTB, which both do airport consulting, and Brown and Caldwell, which consults for the Sewer and Water Department, account or $304 million.

RISK CITED

In his report released last week, Burgess cites a recommendation he made in the upcoming budget: He would like to hire 60 construction engineering inspectors to "replace recurring use of consultants."

Still, the manager does note that certain complex projects require outside assistance.

"While it may not be possible [or advisable] to eliminate our use of consultants, there is the risk in certain circumstances that we use consultants when the employment of in-house personnel would be more effective," Burgess notes in the report.

PROS AND CONS

In Monday's report on the airport, which was requested by Martinez and Commissioner Katy Sorenson, Burgess and Abreu argue for and against using in-house personnel to consult on construction contracts.

They conclude that the county does not have the ability to design large projects in-house; that if staff were hired for the projects, they wouldn't be needed once projects were completed; and that in-house capabilities are there for design and the construction of small projects.

Burgess wrote in Monday's report that the county aviation department is considering creating a team with a project manager for design and another for construction to act as the owner's representatives.

"As part of the effort, MDAD is looking at restructuring allocation of technical positions within the department to better utilize resources and consolidate oversight of these efforts," Burgess wrote.

MAYOR TO BE VIGILANT

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said he didn't have a chance to review the report as of late Friday, and he couldn't be reached Monday.

But Alvarez made a point of keeping a watchful eye on the county's consulting fees in his 2007 budget message.

Alvarez dared the county manager to cut down on hiring in areas such as architecture, engineering, construction and finance.

It "continues to be an issue of concern because I believe it is unnecessarily increasing our cost of doing business. As applicable, particularly in the capital construction arena, we need to focus on recruiting and retaining staff to build up in-house expertise and fill existing vacancies," Alvarez wrote.



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