B. Outsourcing to Accommodate Peak Demand
Consultants can accommodate fluctuating demand more easily than government departments can because of their more flexible staffing policy—they can be “turned off and on.” Consultants have many clients to balance expertise and workloads. Infrastructure development naturally ebbs and flows, but public employees, protected by civil service, remain at steady levels (see Figure 2).59 When staffing exceeds the workload, the space between the workload curve and the staffing level represents waste—staff with nothing productive to do. When the workload exceeds the staffing level, the space between the workload curve and the staffing level represents projects not being completed, delays, backlogs, and costs imposed on would-be users of the new facilities.
The problem of having fluctuating workloads but steady staffing levels can be solved through outsourcing, using consultants as a resource pool that can adjust to address needs. A 1990 study by the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau concluded that outsourcing was used primarily for two reasons: to provide expertise unavailable to in-house staff and to meet short-term, or “peak,” demand levels, for which the addition of permanent staff would be uneconomical.60 The National Cooperative Highway Research Program surveyed state transportation departments and found that half of the states are using consultants to accomplish 50 percent or more of preconstruction engineering and that the primary reason for contracting for design work is constraints on staff size, or the desire to avoid staffing peaks.61
Figure 2: The Ebb and Flow of Project Workloads vs. Staffing Levels
ASFE, Establishing the Cost of Public-Sector Design, p. 15.
Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau, Evaluation of Use of Engineering Consultants: Department of Transportation, 90-9 (Madison: State of Wisconsin, April 1990), p. 10.
Kaye and Kreutzen, Meeting California’s Infrastructure Challenge, p. 5.