Diné Dev. Corp. makes pitch to manage ARPA rollout
In the past few weeks of Naabik’iyati’ Committee work sessions on the American Rescue Plan Act, one thing that delegates have heard repeatedly from division directors and program managers is that they will need more personnel and resources for projects above and beyond their regular duties.
But Diné Development Corporation on Tuesday said it can fulfill those needs and more.
DDC leadership outlined a plan of how they can help the Navajo government administer the estimated $1.8 billion in Navajo ARPA funds expected to arrive in May. They would do this by augmenting staff and streamlining policies and practices.
Chief Executive Officer Austin Tsosie told Naabik’iyati’ that DDC is well prepared to take on large-scale opportunities such as the ARPA and can scale up quickly to support contract, program/project and financial management.
“This is a suite of services we’re very accustomed to,” said Tsosie. “We are used to dealing with project management. We feel we are very prepared to handle these types of spending opportunities.”
DDC Tribal Liaison Oscencio Tom said they already had several meetings with the president’s office, delegates and division directors regarding the possibility of taking on ARPA management duties.
“We’ve been exploring how we can assist the Navajo Tribe with complementary services,” he said. “Right now, everything is still in the discussion phase. We haven’t received any official contract notification.”
Tom said the model they are considering would put DDC as the overall managing entity of Navajo ARPA funds and projects.
“That’s where we’re headed,” said Tom. “We’re hoping our assistance will add some much needed relief to the controller’s office, Navajo lawmakers and division directors in order to execute a well-thought-out plan.”
With an initial investment of $300,000, DDC was founded in 2004 with the support of Council to expand economic development, including off-reservation.
Today, the Navajo Nation-owned corporation has eight subsidiaries and conducts business in 30 states and four countries, offering a wide range of information technology, environmental and professional services to federal, state, tribal, and commercial entities.
DDC’s vision is to advance the future of the Navajo Nation and achieve sustainable community prosperity.
“Our work is community-conscious and heritage-inspired,” said Tom.
With over 500 employees, DDC generates approximately $100 million in revenues annually, with a focus on federal government contracting and joint ventures, partnerships, mergers and acquisitions.
“DDC is growing and dedicated to building up the Navajo Nation economy,” said Tsosie. “We’re trying to expand the Navajo footprint across the globe.”
Tsosie said with years of experience in successfully procuring and executing over half a billion dollars in federal contracts, including for the U.S. Department of Defense and Military, DDC is positioned to offer their services to the Navajo Nation.
Speaker Seth Damon said two months ago he was approached by DDC’s shareholder representatives (delegates R. Smith, M. Freeland, J. Henio, V. James, E. Wauneka) with a recommendation that the company be considered as the “possible new managers” to work with Controller Pearline Kirk.
“They (DDC) have an outstanding and stellar rating with 8(a) contracts and they’re the only enterprise strong enough to do something like this,” Damon told Navajo Times.
“My understanding from the shareholders and the Office of the President is that they have voiced their position saying they support this idea,” he said.
The president’s office did not respond to a request for comment regarding DDC’s services.
“I know that DDC gave a presentation to the executive branch last week and to all the division directors,” said Damon.
The point of Tuesday’s work session was to inform the public and delegates about how DDC envisions they can assist the Navajo Nation with ARPA, said Damon.
“I want to make sure that my colleagues understand what DDC is wanting to do,” he said.
Tsosie believes that before any ARPA projects get started a solid business structure needs to be in place to ensure accountability at all levels, including the federal and Navajo governments.
He said that DDC has the experience and resources to create and manage that framework.
Per their vision, DDC would become the center point or hub for ARPA project information and requirements and could negotiate with potential contractors, manage bid and procurement processes, and enforce compliance, reporting, and delivery standards.
“The Navajo Nation would give DDC a list of prioritized projects, whether chapter, infrastructure or stand alone, and DDC would execute contracts via program management,” said Tsosie.
DDC would also work to maximize community impact by leveraging resources to deliver quality projects within the constraints of budgets, schedule, and scope.
Furthermore, DDC understands federal reporting and compliance requirements, is efficient with contracts and procurement processes, has in-house subject matter experts, legal advisors, and certified public accountants on staff, he said.
“We believe these are key elements that make us a very qualified candidate to assist in this process,” said Tsosie.
Tsosie suggested that as the main entity managing Navajo ARPA projects, DDC could write industry standard (sub)contracts and avoid the drawn out Navajo Nation 164 review process so that projects can quickly begin to get the most out of the ARPA monies.
DDC would contract directly with those proprietors, businesses or enterprises best qualified to do the tasks required and would ensure best practices and compliance, he said.
Under the guidance of a proposed Navajo Nation ARPA government oversight committee, DDC would serve as the collection point for information from contractors and would report back timely, reliable information to stakeholders including the controller, division directors, the OPVP and the Council.
“We have world class IT systems that we have all of our information stored in,” he said. “We can provide reports on how funds are being spent and status of projects.”
‘Keep dollars local’
Damon said that his understanding was that DDC would also take over what Baker Tilly did “in the last go around” with the CARES Act.
“We know that Baker Tilly was an organization that was hired by the controller’s office and Baker Tilly is a non-Native American, or non-Navajo, organization,” said Damon. “The president has always said to make sure that we try to keep the dollars local.’
Damon said he knows there has been “a big push” to make sure that this time around there’s a Navajo organization that can do that.
“DDC’s the one that is wanting to step up to the plate in collaboration with Dineh Chamber of Commerce and Navajo CDFI, which is essentially the Navajo Nation’s bank,” he said.
Tsosie said DDC will always make a good faith effort to utilize Navajo talent whether it be for subcontracting or direct hires.
“It is our commitment to use Navajo businesses,” he said.
If DDC is awarded a contract to assist the Navajo Nation with ARPA administration, Tom said they would likely start a new subsidiary, headquartered in Window Rock, and hire an entire workforce dedicated managing the ARPA funds and project.
The subsidiary would house three divisions: contract management, program/project management and financial management, said Tsosie.
Any fees that would be paid to DDC itself for services would be going to a Navajo company, he said, and a portion of any profits would be given back to the Navajo Nation in the form of DDC bi-annual dividends.
“If we are selected, DDC would be in a position to return bigger and better dividends to ownership (the Navajo Nation),” said Tsosie.
That is how the original DDC charter was set up, said Tom.
“We were set up to go out, make money and return it back to the reservation,” he said. “That’s what we do now. Any fees associated with DDC’s participation in ARPA would come back to the reservation in some shape of fashion.”
While no fee for DDC has been established yet, depending on the size, complexity and scope of a project and how much back office support is needed, fees for program/project managers can run between about 5% to 15%= or more of total project cost.
As another advantage, per DDC’s bylaws, the company is mandated to remain politically neutral, and would therefore work cooperatively with all stakeholders, said Tsosie.
Tom stressed that in order for the ARPA rollout to be successful, government entities on Navajo need to be “on the same page,” which will also help eliminate miscommunications and duplication of services.
“We’re trying to get the president’s office, the speaker’s office, and the Council in accord to make this successful,” said Tom. “We keep reiterating that message, ‘everybody needs to play nice.’ We need to make sure this thing gets done and benefits our Navajo people.”
Tsosie agreed, saying, in these unparalleled times, the Nation needs to unify behind the ARPA efforts.
“I would ask that this be a collaborative process for the long term for the Navajo Nation, to make us better, more efficient and accountable,” said Tsosie. “This is really a time to spend these monies wisely.”