The theme of many stories that apply to the public works arena—including the cover story of this issue—is that of cooperation. In some instances, it's cooperation between a public works department and the city's elected officials. In other cases, it might be cooperation between a public works department and the contractors to which it outsources various projects. Other examples could involve cooperation among different local departments, or cooperation between entities at the local, state, and federal levels.
Perhaps the best recent illustration of a story that epitomizes that cooperation theme—and encompasses all of the above scenarios, and more—is the post-Katrina rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast. That urgent, colossal, and multi-faceted mission exemplifies why interdepartmental, interagency, and even interpersonal cooperation is not just helpful, but absolutely critical. Without it, such complex, vital, and high-profile efforts would be nearly impossible to accomplish.
Craig Johnson, vice president for engineering and construction management at Stanley Consultants, knows that fact very well. Stanley Consultants is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Task Force Guardian program to restore 170 miles of levees and flood-walls in New Orleans back to pre-Katrina protection levels by June 1, the beginning of the 2006 hurricane season. Johnson's firm is charged with program management, which includes development and operation of a database that tracks the restoration project. That's clearly a complicated and concerted effort; Johnson said, for example, that the levee and floodwall restoration involves 59 individual construction contracts, as well as people and agencies at the local, state, and federal levels.
“You learn the very close interaction and cooperation there has to be between all levels of government to make something succeed,” said Johnson. “When you're working on a project of this magnitude, you don't just have one client whose interests you serve exclusively. It's a monumental task we're trying to get through, and it takes cooperation at the highest level.”
Johnson certainly knows from monumental tasks—and discord. His previous assignment was in Baghdad, as a team leader for what is now the Iraq Project and Contracting Office (see PUBLIC WORKS, April 2005). There, Johnson led a group of architects, engineers, and planners involved in the planning for the reconstruction of Iraq—another area where coordination and cooperation is obviously critical.
High-stakes projects like these may not seem to bear much resemblance to the day-to-day responsibilities of public works departments, but at their respective cores they are really not different at all: They are critical to their constituencies, they are complex, and they typically require the cooperation of many different groups at many different levels. Take associate editor Jenni Spinner's cover story (page 20) about how public works director Bill Kappel works with the mayor of Wauwatosa, Wis., to achieve the mutual goal of making their city work better, or my story on page 26 about public works departments in Massachusetts working with the state's Wetlands Restoration Program on culvert replacement to simultaneously improve infrastructure and the environment. They have the same morals as Johnson's stories about New Orleans and Iraq: Without proper collaboration, these missions will fail.
Or, as Johnson harmoniously put it, “There's no way it will succeed unless everyone gets on the same sheet of music to play a recognizable tune.”