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Navy Public Works Expert Named to Head WSSC

New General Manager Pledges to Improve Outreach to Minority Contractors

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2005; Page B01

Andrew Brunhart is a licensed engineer, a former White House military escort and, until recently, head of the Navy's public works projects in the Southwest.

He is also a trained mediator.

Andrew Brunhart attends a WSSC work session with interim general manager Carla R. Joyner. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

It is perhaps that skill that will be most helpful to Brunhart, 53, as new general manager of the troubled Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. The giant water and sewer utility, which serves more than 1.6 million customers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, has been roiled in controversy for much of the past year over allegations of cronyism and mismanagement by the agency's governing board.

Before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 120 agency employees, the six-member board of commissioners voted 6 to 0 yesterday to hire Brunhart.

"It's time to move forward," said Brunhart, whose three-year contract comes with a $180,000 starting salary.

Brunhart said he was initially wary of the job after hearing accounts of dysfunction at the agency. The former general manager was ousted last year, three commissioners resigned under pressure and legislators have called on the remaining commissioners to step down.

But Brunhart said he was reassured by his meetings with the current board.

"I would not have taken this assignment if I didn't have confidence in the commissioners," said Brunhart, who officially starts Feb. 28. "The commissioners, as constituted today, are high-functioning."

Brunhart is a 30-year Navy officer -- he retired as a captain -- with extensive experience running public utilities and infrastructure projects. From a young public works officer at a tiny village in Alaska, he rose to become executive director for Navy Region Southwest, which provides operating support to Navy bases in California, Arizona and Nevada. The organization, which has 6,200 employees and an annual operating budget of $720 million, provides services normally handled by a city or county.

"Think of him like the landlord of all the tenants on a base that provides all the services a tenant would need," said Michael W. Blaksley, the Navy region's information technology director.

Brunhart served as the top civilian in the organization as it faced increasing pressure from the Navy to cut costs. Over the past five years, he organized layoffs that cut the staff by more than 40 percent and trimmed the budget by $40 million, according to Rene Trevino, the current executive director for Navy Region Southwest.

Colleagues describe Brunhart as a "sensitive" administrator, open to differing points of view. "He was never very critical," Blaksley said. "He was always open to discussion and listening."

Brunhart, a former board member and mediator at the San Diego-based National Conflict Resolution Center, said yesterday that WSSC needs to improve its outreach to minority contractors.

"We have work to do," he said. "We know that's an area where we need to improve, and we will do that."

But he said the utility has been successful at increasing diversity within the agency. Minorities represent 51 percent of the agency's workforce and more than 65 percent of new hires over the past few years, he said.

"This tells me that the organization as a whole values diversity," Brunhart said.

When asked about seven employees who filed a discrimination lawsuit against the agency, he said, "Allegations are allegations. . . . But for any validated case of discrimination, I will have zero tolerance."

Wayne R. Frazier Sr., president of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors' Association, heralded Brunhart's selection. He said Carla R. Joyner, the interim general manager who is also the first African American woman to head the agency, has not been supportive enough of minority business.

"She didn't carry the torch for us," Frazier said. "I think WSSC's role should be capacity building for small and local business, and it hasn't done that."

Joyner, however, was extremely popular within the organization. More than 550 employees signed a petition asking that Joyner be made permanent general manager.

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