The ACEC-SC/SCDOT Partnering Committee met yesterday morning, where Acting Secretary, Christy Hall, presented a letter on the new policy the SCDOT is implementing on former employees working for consultants. Click here to see SCDOT letter.
Ms. Hall was open in her comments saying she intended to run the new policy by the ACEC-SC/SCDOT Partnering Committee before rolling it out, but circumstances (the hearing before the S.C. House Panel Aug. 11) changed, and the policy was announced and picked up by the media.
She said the department felt it was necessary to establish a clear code of conduct for the agency to put into place to combat the real or perceived conflict of interest with former SCDOT employees who leave to go to work with consulting firms.
This policy creates a rolling 365 day extension based upon the former SCDOT employee’s departure date.
In her letter, she said the “SCDOT is implementing a bright line rule which will disqualify firms who present proposals that include employees who have been employed by SCDOT within one year.” Existing contracts are not affected by the new policy; however, some RFQs are being withdrawn and reissued with the policy included.
We understand this does not affect previous employees still within their 365 day window from working on SCDOT projects already under contract, including new task orders for existing on-call contracts. However, in all cases the existing ethics laws apply, so this may influence the nature and extent of a person’s project involvement, as it has in the past. Deputy Secretary, Brian Keys is designated as the official contact point for questions concerning procurement procedures.
Concerning county and local projects, Ms. Hall said if the department is in control of procurement and consultant selection, then the new policy applies. However, if the county is in charge of the project, including procurement, then the county’s procurement policy applies. Any state ethics law still applies. The objective is for the department to have one set of rules on this issue.
According to department representatives at the Partnering Committee meeting, this policy applies to all RFP/RFP based selections as well as Design/Build projects.
After the Partnering Committee adjourned, the ACEC-SC members convened to discuss its perception of the policy and decide on the message it should send to the ACEC-SC firms.
Taking note of the possible situation that the recent SC Budget proviso would have imposed on both the SCDOT and consulting firms, the policy is a proactive attempt to get ahead of any action the General Assembly might consider in January and essentially becomes a restriction on a single employee of the firm, rather than the firm as a whole.
Furthermore, the policy follows the State Ethics Law, but makes it clear for SCDOT employees and for consultants. It takes away any grey areas up for interpretation. The policy removes the ambiguity contained in the ethics law.
The committee agrees this policy is much better for the consulting firms than the *budget proviso* but realizes it may be a challenge for some firms and could influence career decisions for current and future SCDOT engineers as well as affect the hiring policies of consulting firms. ACEC-SC will be monitoring the implementation and evaluating the results going forward.
*“Proviso 84.17 : “(DOT: Contracts) In the current fiscal year, the Department of Transportation shall not use any funds appropriated or authorized in this act to award a contract to a firm that hires a former Department of Transportation engineer unless the engineer has not been employed by the department for one year.” – proviso was not adopted in 2015 session.