During my 41 years with Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Engineering, I had some contact with EMA consultants. While one of the better consultants technically speaking, I question the choice of an organization having limited experience and ties to the area for planning the future of the DWSD.
Like most consultants I dealt with during my tenure, they are salesmen first, businessmen seeking profits second, and engineers last. Nearly all consultants I dealt with stick to the conventional wisdom, because it avoids the risk of error from their limited and superficial knowledge of the client.
Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson's Aug. 9 tirade ("Intolerable waste in the Water Dept.") says he has taken their report as gospel. Atlanta tried massive outsourcing of its water operations, and it led to a collapse of service, requiring a costly reconstruction of its department. Are we about to repeat the proverbial unlearned lesson of history?
The proposed solutions I'm hearing are platitudinous clichés once you get past correcting the obvious outrageous practices. Outsourcing is just another way, and an inefficient way, of turning DWSD into a for-profit operation by divvying it out piecemeal on short-term leases as service contracts, yet we are told to believe that adding profit mark-ups and the administrative costs of bidding and administering outsourcing contracts reduce the total cost.
The staggering overhead of contracting is invisible if city workers are not unshackled from the city's own stupid rules and allowed to compete. For example, my unionized staff saved DWSD more than a million dollars over the consultant's proposal for designing the wholesale water metering system contract, even doing it on overtime at time-and-a-half so as not to interfere with our regular duties, but I'll bet my pension that is not in EMA's report, because they probably told the client what they thought it wanted to hear. The anti-union rhetoric declared the verdict before the trial.
Dennis L. Green, P.E.
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