ExecutiveBiz spoke with John Vollmer, president of management services at AECOM, and a three-time Wash100 winner, about AECOM’s robust organic growth, future in the unmanned aerial systems market, what infrastructure opportunities lie ahead, and much more.
“Today’s U.S. infrastructure gap is in the trillions of dollars. To address this, it’s absolutely crucial that we work with our government clients to develop creative approaches that address and integrate the full lifecycle of these projects.”
ExecutiveBiz: In December 2017, AECOM announced its management services business group will hire 1,000 plus new employees to support federal customers. How is that initiative going and what impact has the company seen?
In the last three months, we’ve hired over 1,200 employees, mostly in our test and training range engineering support practice; our sustainment services for our warfighters in Southwest Asia; in support of the Defense Spectrum Organization; and multiple combat commands in spectrum engineering and electromagnetic environmental effects. We are also seeing significant increases in our capture of task orders under our multiple award indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts because of focused efforts to leverage our MAC and government-wide acquisition contracts. We’ve also made several strategic hires to support our intelligence community clients.
All these additions have been the direct result of key organic wins and targeted recruitment in key business areas, reflected in top line growth of our core businesses. This growth is also fueled by Fortune Magazine’s recognition of AECOM as one of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” and Victory Media’s “Military Friendly” designation.
ExecutiveBiz: Recently, AECOM\URS Federal Services won an almost $1 billion UAS services contract with the U.S. Air Force. What role do you see UAS technology playing in the federal government in the near future?
We’re at an exciting time where unmanned aerial systems technology is growing beyond just traditional military use. While the DoD presents the highest number of requirements, other agencies like the DHS, DOI and the DOT have recognized UAS benefits and successfully employed systems in various applications. From homeland security to firefighting, infrastructure inspection to environmental assessment, the value of UAS employment continues to increase.
AECOM recognized this potential over a decade ago and we are currently providing UAS support across a broad spectrum of critical areas including command and control, operations, maintenance, engineering support and training. We also partnered with the DOE to conduct industrial stacks inspections at its East Tennessee Technology Park and are currently working with the DOI, the Canadian government, and various state and local transportation agencies to use UAS to improve management of their resources.
ExecutizeBiz: Within federal agencies, what do you see as the biggest challenges they face in terms of addressing cybersecurity and threat protection services?
Cyberattacks rarely affect a single entity. Rather, effects ripple across infrastructure sectors and such an attack will likely not stay confined to either the public or private sector. According to our Future of Infrastructure report, one in three survey respondents believe a major cyberattack will happen in the next five years. Three-quarters of respondents are highly pessimistic about their peers’ ability to anticipate a full-scale cyber event, and little more than half feel prepared to manage cyber threats overall.
To enhance our preparation for such attacks, it is imperative that: we better identify resources and resource shortfalls; exercise and validate cybersecurity authorities across the federal/commercial space; identify how to better partner across the public and private sectors; and draft a playbook for responding to such attacks. AECOM is partnering with the Army Cyber Institute to sponsor a joint cyber/physical training exercise called Jack Voltaic 2, which will bring in elements across the federal, state, local and commercial agencies to examine how we can respond to a cyberattack in conjunction with a natural disaster such as a hurricane.
Related to this is the critical need for our industry to be able to attract the best and brightest to government work. With the way contracts are often structured, many of the best cybersecurity and threat reduction experts are heading to large tech companies. Working in government cyber programs is not seen as desirable as it once was, and we need to work to change that.
ExecutiveBiz: The federal government has highlighted the need to improve infrastructure within the U.S. Notably, the recent federal spending bill signed by President Trump included an over $1 billion investment in national rail. What opportunities does this focus on infrastructure offer AECOM?
This federal spending commitment is a step in the right direction, but only the first step. We’re not likely to see cumulative, national infrastructure legislation until 2019, which includes addressing long-term funding needs to support our federal highway system, waterways and other critical civil infrastructure. Today’s U.S. infrastructure gap is in the trillions of dollars. To address this, it’s absolutely crucial that we work with our government clients to develop creative approaches that address and integrate the full lifecycle of these projects.
As the world’s premier fully integrated infrastructure firm, AECOM is uniquely positioned to address this national need. Many states, local communities and even other national governments have used private-public partnerships successfully in areas such as transportation, housing and public buildings. These partnerships enable the public sector to share risk and increase the accountability that often eludes purely publicly-financed projects.
On the DoD side, we’re starting to see infrastructure as an aspect of military readiness. If our basing infrastructure is impaired, it negatively impacts our ability to effectively operate our military. This acknowledgement means that there are opportunities to creatively work with clients to improve these facilities while controlling costs. As an example, the collaborative approach the Army is taking around Fort Gordon and the Army Cyber Command is a positive move in that direction and offers significant opportunities.
We are also encouraged by infrastructure investments in the DOE market. The recently passed omnibus bill provides funding to upgrade infrastructure for many of the National Nuclear Security Administration facilities as well as funding to provide much needed infrastructure upgrades at DOE-Environmental Management locations such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant that we manage in New Mexico.
ExecutiveBiz: What new market opportunities is AECOM pursuing?
AECOM can design, build, finance and operate critical infrastructure assets, and we’re seeing more opportunities and demand for our broad capabilities, global reach and integrated platforms in both the public and private sectors.
Specific to the federal space, we’re currently making big investments in our supply chain management and contingency operations practices. Our work for the Army Prepositioned Stock program and our disaster response work with FEMA are examples where we have experienced significant growth. We are heavily focused on employing robust technology solutions, such as IFS’s supply chain solution, to better leverage our domain expertise, world-class people and processes.
Also, we’re continuing our pursuit of commercial reactor decontamination and decommissioning. Following our win of the San Onofre nuclear site and numerous D&D activities at DOE sites, AECOM is aggressively pursuing D&D of commercial power facilities around the globe as they come to the end of their operating life.
Finally, we’re excited to be growing our intelligence analysis practice. As was recently announced, we partnered with SitScape to provide our clients with a unique combination of expertise and technology that will drive better decisions and create more effective outcomes.
Before assuming his current role, John Vollmer served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of AECOM’s management services business. He joined the company in 2014, following its $4 billion acquisition of URS, where he was EVP of operations for federal services.