Inclusive contracting is a popular topic right now among government contractors, and for good reason. It is now common to see diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals for subcontractors encouraged—if they are not required outright. Identifying and working with certified firms (minority/women/veteran-owned, small and disadvantaged) can strengthen a project team while fulfilling these contracting requirements. GeoEngineers has been working to develop partner relationships with such firms for years, and we hope that our lessons learned and successes might help other firms see how inclusive contracting can be an opportunity to grow as these requirements become standard across the U.S.
GeoEngineers has held a variety of on-call contracts with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) for more than 10 years, and we have traditionally committed to having certified firms perform 10 to 26 percent of the task scopes. In 2015, we won the WSDOT Hydrology and Hydraulics (H&H) On-Call contract. Task orders issued under the on-call contract have specified inclusive contracting utilization goals of 26 percent. We developed strong relationships with certified small business Site Design Associates (SDA) and its lead engineer Jon Turcott, and began using this firm for stream engineering work. Thanks to SDA, our WSDOT H&H project portfolio began increasing steadily as we were able to easily fulfill utilization goals and meet the technical requirements. Then, SDA was sold—and we no longer had a certified firm to utilize on the contract.
This kind of turnover in small businesses can happen, and it underscores the importance of developing a network of relationships with multiple certified firms to help satisfy inclusive contracting goals. Fortunately, GeoEngineers’ relationship with Jon Turcott paid off again, and he recommended we engage with women-owned Entitlement and Engineering Solutions (EES).
Bringing in a new teaming partner mid-contract can be difficult, but Jon helped with the introductions and EES was quick to impress with the quality of their deliverables. To ensure everyone was on the same page and meeting WSDOT’s expectations, GeoEngineers’ stream engineering staff, led by Melanie Klym and Becca Miller, regularly reached out to engage with EES’ team and build an effective partnership. This effort helped our H&H team get to know them, their work styles and capacity—and form relationships that would help us all succeed. EES jumped into the on-call work and quickly showed themselves to be an integral part of the team.
EES had been chasing culvert design projects for years, just like those contracted under the WSDOT H&H On-Call. This partnership is helping EES expand their expertise while helping GeoEngineers deliver on contract commitments. At the same time, GeoEngineers staff has learned from the different skill sets and experience at EES, which has helped them become more well-rounded engineers.
By helping EES gain the skills to perform this work to WSDOT’s satisfaction they will be able to stand on their own in the marketplace. This increases the odds that WSDOT will be happy with the work they are paying for, and ultimately reflects well on the firms who made the introduction.
Providing EES with meaningful and substantive involvement in our projects also helps build capacity for a client that has an immense need and limited staff. To do this, we carved out a portion of our scope to assign to EES, and it has been worth it. As partners, we are able to collaborate in design meetings, come up with better ideas and rapidly arrive at implementable solutions—all which provide additional value to our clients.
Some firms might be wary of sharing too much knowledge with another consultant—and we know EES may be able to eventually compete with GeoEngineers for H&H work, but when client satisfaction is the ultimate goal, as it is at GeoEngineers, then this is not a dangerous business decision. In the end it is a win-win for everyone involved.