Avoiding Competition with the Private Sector

In Reply Refer To:                                         July 7, 1995
Mail Stop 409


Subject:  Avoiding Competition with the Private Sector

The purpose of this memorandum is to remind ourselves of the appropriate
role of the Water Resources Division (WRD) for investigations and data
collection activities within the Federal-State Cooperative (Cooperative)
Program and Other Federal Agencies (OFA) Program.  The need to review WRD's
role is very important and most relevant today in light of the changing
technical and political environment.  The expertise and capabilities of the
hydrologic consulting community have improved greatly in recent years. 
Federal, State and local agencies can and should use the private sector for
many kinds of studies which, in the past, may only have been conducted by
WRD.  Also, our projects are subject to increasing scrutiny by public
officials in light of the emphasis for privatizing Federal entities. 
However, we believe that there are strong justifications for our Federal
role in water information.  The existance of even a few projects (out of
the many hundreds we undertake) for which the justification is weak can
undermine our ability to continue to provide the services to the Nation
that are our proper mission.  Thus, for every study we undertake we must be
able to demonstrate that it is an appropriate role for WRD.

One key role of WRD in hydrologic investigations under Cooperative and OFA
programs is to lead the Nation in providing new understanding, approaches,
technology, and research for defining water resources and solving
water-resources problems.  In order to fulfill this role, WRD must maintain
strong partnerships with other agencies who use hydrologic data and the
results of our investigations to make decisions regarding the management of
water resources.  The continued vitality and relevance of our programs
depends on our close involvement and responsiveness to these agencies. 
Internally, strong competence in field techniques and assessments,
familiarity with the full range of hydrologic systems, and a strong and
relevant research program must be maintained.  The data and hydrologic
system information gathered from the Cooperative and OFA programs are used
in turn by WRD to synthesize regional- and national-scale, water-resources
perspectives.  Thus, these programs are vital to the overall mission of the

It is no accident that WRD is the principal provider of hydrologic data,
theory, research, and new technology for the United States and the world. 
This competence is maintained by the internal feedback loop among research,
the distributed resource-assessment programs, and customer (cooperators and
OFA's) input.  Without the feedback loop, the WRD program would soon lose
its relevance to emerging water-resource issues.  Paramount, however, is
the need to maintain the longstanding WRD policy not to compete with the
private sector.  This means that WRD must be responsive to the requests and
interests of potential partners, but at the same time set limits on the
type of work undertaken on their behalf.

Projects undertaken for customers must meet some basic standards.  They
must provide an enhancement of knowledge or an enhancement of hydrologic
methodology that is likely to be useful beyond the immediate needs of the
customer.  In general, if the project is driven solely by an operational
need of the customer to meet some information requirement for a permit or
regulation, we should not undertake it.  However, if this operational need
can be satisfied along with one or more of the following broader goals,
then the work may be considered appropriate.  These broader goals for WRD
work are:  

        1)  advancing knowledge of the regional hydrologic

        2)  advancing field or analytical methodology 

        3)  advancing understanding of hydrologic processes

        4)  providing data or results useful to multiple parties in        
            potentially contentious interjurisdictional conflicts 
            over water resources

        5)  furnishing hydrologic data required for interstate and         
            international compacts, Federal law, court decrees, and                
            congressionally mandated studies

        6)  providing water-resources information that will be used    
            by multiple parties for planning and operational purposes

        7)  furnishing hydrologic data or information that             
            contribute to protection of life and property

        8)  contributing data to national data bases that will be      
            used to advance the understanding of regional and temporal
            variations in hydrologic conditions.  

A critical aspect of each of these goals is that all WRD programs (whether
funded by appropriations or by specific customers) take an active role in
sharing the results of the investigation either through widely-accessable
data bases or through published reports.  Further guidelines on our
appropriate role are given in WRD Memorandum No. 84.21; this memorandum
specifically addresses criteria to be used to decide which hydrologic
activities are not appropriately included in the Cooperative Program. 

The fact that a cooperator or OFA approaches the WRD to undertake the
particular study (rather than issuing a request for proposals) is not
sufficient evidence that the project is not in competition with the private
sector.  It must be demonstrated that the proposed work goes significantly
beyond what the private sector would do, either in terms of research or
innovation, or in terms of contribution to shared hydrologic data or
knowledge.  There are many instances where the customer's motivations are
entirely related to some regulatory requirement for information.  It is
appropriate for WRD to discuss the customer's needs and see if a broader
effort can be undertaken involving enhancements of the data collection
methods or analytical approaches or making the information collected more
useful for a wide range of uses.  However, if the customer's interests are
limited to the routine application of standard, pre-existing protocols to
satisfy a regulatory or design requirement and do not significantly fulfill
any of the 8 goals listed above, then the work should be rejected.  On the
other hand, if the customer is interested in having the WRD participate in
the development of a procedure to be used for some regulatory or design
purpose, a project aimed at the development and limited application of the
procedure may be appropriate.  

The issue of potential competition with the private sector is a difficult
one, requiring the use of considerable judgment and sensitivity.  It is
important that WRD stay relevant to customer needs and maintain a balance
of data collection, interpretive studies, and research efforts.  The WRD
would lose its relevance and ability to provide innovations in data
collection and interpretation if it removed itself from these routine
activities.  WRD must be acutely aware of the needs of a wide range of
potential customers for hydrologic information.  However, WRD must approach
these potential customers with the viewpoint that our role is to form true
partnerships with our customers.  We must provide significant technical
leadership and not simply respond to their needs as they perceive them. 
This means that some potential projects will be rejected as inappropriate
for WRD.  It also means that many potential projects will be greatly
strengthened, from the standpoint of benefits to the customer and to the

                                              Robert M. Hirsch
                                              Chief Hydrologist


This memorandum supersedes WRD Memorandum No. 92.56.