Aecom Technology Corp. designs massive, complex infrastructure projects: for instance, a bridge and undersea tunnel system crossing a busy Hong Kong shipping channel.

So what is the downtown L.A. engineering giant doing sending consultants to a war zone in rural Afghanistan to help build not bridges but democracy?

It’s jumping into a different revenue stream, a move analysts said can help insulate the company, largely dependent on public-sector engineering contracts, from the uncertainty that comes with today’s deficits and spending cuts.

“Aecom has done a good job of looking at pieces of the federal budget that are less likely to be cut,” said David Wells, who follows Aecom stock as senior equity analyst for Thompson Research Group in Nashville, Tenn.

Increasingly, that means doing projects that rely less on the firm’s design or engineering acumen than on ground-level work in logistics, diplomacy and intelligence. For example, Aecom’s latest deal, a $177 million contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development, calls for the company to help build Afghans’ confidence in their local leaders by assisting the government in carrying out its functions.

These so-called management and support services are nothing new for Aecom, but that part of the company’s business has seen strong growth over the past several years, with revenue more than tripling since 2005.

And Aecom isn’t alone. Another local engineering powerhouse, Pasadena’s Tetra Tech Inc., offers similar services and reported that segment as a bright spot in its latest annual report. While the company’s overall revenue was down from federal sources, Tetra Tech saw growth from services paid for by USAID, the same agency contracting with Aecom in Afghanistan.

Indeed, analysts said that as Washington tightens its belt, it makes sense for companies such as Aecom and Tetra Tech to offer more types of services. Working for many departments and offices could insulate companies from cuts that might come down the line.

“There are many parts of government – federal, state, local, different agencies – and the goal is to diversify to the extent you can,” said Andy Kaplowitz, who follows Aecom as an analyst for Barclays Capital Inc. in New York.

Service provider

Under its new contract, Aecom will run a USAID program called Stability in Key Areas, which aims to wean Afghans off of dependence on U.S. agencies and get them to work with their local governments.

If a village needs a well, for instance, villagers might ask the U.S. Army for help. Aecom diverts those requests to local officials and then helps them deliver, perhaps by finding an Afghan with expertise to do the work, USAID officials said.

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