"Taxpayer Advocate” Sean Dawson, 2019 Value Engineer of the Year

Published Nov. 5, 2019
Col. John Litz, Baltimore District commander, presents Sean Dawson, Baltimore District value engineer, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2019 Value Engineer Professional of the Year award at the Baltimore District headquarters, Sept. 11, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by John Sokolowski)

Col. John Litz, Baltimore District commander, presents Sean Dawson, Baltimore District value engineer, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2019 Value Engineer Professional of the Year award at the Baltimore District headquarters, Sept. 11, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by John Sokolowski)

For Sean Dawson, personal connections have been the driving force throughout his four years as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District’s Value Engineer.

It’s the connections, problem-solving skills and dedication that made Dawson the recipient of the Army Corps’ 2019 Value Engineer Professional of the Year award.

"Sean was selected out of 70 value engineers from across the Corps for this award," said Col. John Litz, Baltimore District commander. "This is not easy work. He has earned it for his diligent efforts to continually educate and bring awareness to the importance of the program and to expand upon an outcome-based focus."

Dawson’s journey to value engineering  

Dawson started at the Army Corps in 1992 and has taken a few different positions since then. For the majority of Dawson’s time, he acted as the Chief of the Civil Works Management Design Section. He sparked a new journey in fall 2015 as Value Engineer, or as he refers to it – “the taxpayer’s advocate.”

“I was at a point in my life where I was ready for something new, even though I wasn’t sure what that would be,” Dawson expressed. “I had a wonderful position with wonderful people, but I got a little stagnated.”

Even though Dawson wanted to try something new, he was wary of change. After talking to his wife, he realized this opportunity may be just want he needed to invigorate his career, and it was.

“When I finally got settled into the position, I was working on stuff I knew nothing about; it was a new philosophy in terms of looking at things,” Dawson said.

Instead of passing change by, Dawson took it and embraced it. Coincidentally, that is the intended purpose of the Army Corps’ Value Engineering Program.

The Value Engineering Program

Over the decades, this program has been the catalyst for many changes to standards, designs, policies and procedures and has introduced many concepts that have become new standards.

“In the most basic sense, value engineering looks at what something must do to be successful and the resources that can be put in place to make it even more successful,” Dawson shared.

Value engineering allows people to come together to have a discussion on what they think will reduce cost, speed delivery, and enhance performance.

Addressing value engineering is required for any Army Corps project more than $2 million. This includes military construction, navigation, flood risk management, environmental restoration, and evaluation of business processes.

“Value engineering is the taxpayers’ advocate,” explained Dawson. “We want you guys to have high quality projects with the right expenditure of resources. It is definitely a balancing act.”

The value engineering methodology has proven to be effective and proactive. In Baltimore District alone, there is an average return on investment rate of 18:1; with every $1 spent on the Value Engineering Program returning $18 in savings or avoidance.

There is always a new strategy, way of thinking or personal experience that can benefit Baltimore District. Dawson wants to be able to identify ideas that can mitigate risk and save his clients and colleagues time, money, and effort. This is what fascinates Dawson and what drives him to promote the Value Engineering Program.

“Sean wants to do what is right, and overall he really deserves the recognition,” said Emily Schiffmacher, supervisory engineer. “I knew nominating him for this award wouldn’t be that hard since I had so many people to back it up. He has helped and continues to help so many people and this overall mission.”

Interpersonal skills have been Dawson’s bread and butter

Dawson finds that interpersonal skills are the fundamental tool to learn about one another. Since value can mean different things to different people, he enjoys sitting down with people and learning their stories and values.

“Value engineering is about finding what people value, it’s about people telling you their story,” Dawson said. “We as people, we are narrative, we tell stories, it’s our oldest tradition. Storytelling is interpreting the world around you. Interpreting what you find important in life and making it relevant to other people. Having connections, personal connections is the way we get things done.”

The way individuals communicate and perceive things can be complex; adding in the topic of value and how to spend limited federal funding each year can make matters even more challenging due to differing opinions, views and perspectives. Having the mutual trust and respect that comes from personal connections, being able to understand who it is you are talking to, and what they value, can lead to fewer problems and a higher success rate; which is a cornerstone of Baltimore District’s mission.

“When you see someone at their wit’s end, I love coming in and saying ‘hey, let me see if we can help you out,’ and then coming up with a solution. That is my favorite thing about this job.”

What’s next for Dawson?

Becoming the Value Engineer for Baltimore District was a bit of an unknown to Dawson; however, making this change provided him with new opportunities.

In fiscal 20, Dawson wants to dip his toes into the management side of the program.

In his free time, he reads up on social, cognitive and organizational theories like the Trust Theory, the Organizational Change Theory and the Change Equation. He wants to gain new perspectives on what can be useful and efficient for the Value Engineering Program.

“I was never this guy before; this job rewired my brain, it really did, and I couldn’t be more thankful,” Dawson said.