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BRAC: USACE Rebuilds to Meet “Soldier Readiness”

As part of the Department of Defense (DoD) Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, the Army continues its largest organizational change since World War II. This organizational change is centered on transforming the Army to a brigade-centric, modular force. The Army plan calls for re-stationing one-third of the force, as well as growing the force to have a 547,000 active component, 358,200 National Guard, and 206,000 in the Army Reserve.

The Army has 47 percent of the entire DoD BRAC 2005 Program, which is scheduled to conclude in September 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is executing $16 billion of Military Construction (MILCON) for 275 Army, 127 Air Force, and 32 DoD BRAC projects.

“We are executing the facilities portion of the Army’s BRAC program. Overall, we are on target to meet all milestones and are within budget. For FY 09 to FY 10, we’ve been experiencing a favorable bid environment. That in concert with our business processes to make our facilities less costly and easier to construct, i.e. MILCON Transformation, has led to significant cost savings as compared to estimated amounts,” said Carl Penski, USACE BRAC team leader.

“The Army and USACE planned an execution schedule with big workloads in fiscal years 10-11. We’re executing toward that plan and facilitating the Army’s overall BRAC movement timelines so the individual commands and activities can come online and be in their installations in time to meet the BRAC law. So the peak years have been FY 09 through FY 10,” he said.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. speaks to members of the USACE and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Campus East project team during a visit to the Integrated Program Office (IPO) at Fort Belvoir, Aug. 11, 2010. The $1.7 billion project is being completed as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure programs. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Marc Barnes

BRAC law does not actually mention the construction of new facilities, so it has been up to the Army to identify those needs and create budgets for the Corps to use in providing new or expanded buildings to house Soldiers moving from bases being closed or turned over to a new command or function. The result was a $16 billion, five-year effort, with about 80 percent of that involving facilities and the remainder for infrastructure improvements.

In addition to engineering and construction management-related work, as part of the BRAC program, USACE handles real estate acquisition and disposal, environmental (most notably the National Environmental Protection Act compliance documentation; environmental studies and cleanup supporting BRAC closure and disposal actions), and equipment and furniture procurement.

“The furnishings were ordered through Huntsville’s Centralized Furniture Procurement & Installation program. By using centralized procurement resulted in $80 million BRAC cost avoidance to the Army, and resulting in zero contract protests,” said Penski.

“Real estate acquisition is typically for the BRAC Armed Forces Reserve Centers, which includes site selection; engineering feasibility studies; title work; land acquisition/closing; disposal activities associated with closure of BRAC and BRAC legacy closing installations,” he said.

“Since, Aug. 31, 2010, we have 275 projects in the program, with 97 completed and turned over to the garrisons and end users,” according to Edward Rozenblat, USACE national account manager for BRAC. “BRAC is a huge program. We awarded the large projects first and a lot of smaller projects – between $20 million and $70 million each – were pushed back to start between 2008 and 2010, which is why nearly two-thirds of the program is still active.”

A contractor places concrete Feb. 26, 2010, at Weinstien Village, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District construction project to provide new barracks, a dining facility, a physical fitness track, and battalion headquarters for advanced individual training Soldiers at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Penski said in some cases it made more sense to repurpose existing buildings for new uses, rather than to tear them down and build new.

“At Aberdeen [Proving Ground, Md.] for example, some buildings were previously used by the ordnance maintenance school for work on tanks,” he noted. “Those high-bay facilities have been turned into suitable facilities for inbound tenants from Fort Monmouth and now are being used for the C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] community, primarily because they already have infrastructure in place for things like overhead cranes.”

The Corps has faced two major challenges in meeting the BRAC requirements and schedule, Penski said.

“First is the magnitude of the program. We have projects, such as the San Antonio Military Medical Center North, Belvoir Mark Center, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, and Fort Bliss Brigade Combat Team Complex, where we are spending greater than $1 million a day in construction – which was unheard of before. The sheer size of the program has caused the Corps to have to ramp up in terms of process, design, and construction contract capacity, and staffing to administer the construction projects. And that is in concert with all the other work the Corps is performing on the civil works side of the house,” he explained.

“Second was the time component. In the normal MILCON process, there’s a notional four-year cycle to plan a project, get it programmed, designed, and execute it. With BRAC, the Army managed to condense the planning and programming down to about two years. For construction, we’ve been compressing schedules and employing fast-track design-build contracts. Our focus is on hard completion dates so that building tenants have a firm date from which to plan their other BRAC movement activities, such as equipment and personnel moves. So across the board, there’s been a real compression of all activities. In some instances, we’ve also been concurrently performing fit-out activities with construction, including IT installation, furniture installation, and tenant-installed equipment. These activities ordinarily happen sequentially. By employing this joint occupancy technique, we’re further able to compress the time it takes to make a facility ‘Soldier ready.’ We focus on no loss of quality and still meeting the end-user’s operational requirements. In doing so, we can reduce the time it takes to turnover a facility from months down to weeks.”

Rozenblat said to accomplish that, USACE devised new standards for various types of facilities, enabling them to put out contracts for bid that were identical regardless of location.

“There was an initial learning process on the new standards, but they enabled the contractors to move quickly through the solicitations and come up with build-out proposals. It also allowed the use of more commercial means of construction and standards, moving away from old, strict, federal requirements, which allowed us to get facilities at less cost and quicker,” he said. “So a contractor building barracks knew exactly what we wanted.

Workers from Hansel Phelps Construction Company, the prime contractor building the Army Forces Command and Army Reserve Command co-located headquarters at Fort Bragg, N.C., watch as the last steel girder goes into place. The Savannah District is overseeing the construction of the new headquarters. The facility must be completed and occupied by September 2011. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Billy Birdwell, Savannah District

“As part of the MILCON transformation, we established eight Centers of Standardization and developed over 40 standard designs. For example, Fort Worth [District] is responsible for barracks, Norfolk [District] is responsible for dining facilities, and so on. With so many projects and moving pieces, it was a difficult and unique effort. For the overall program, throughout 2007-08, we were looking at $10 to $15 billion each year between BRAC and all the other MILCON projects we had,” according to Rozenblat.

With so many major contracts, including some developed just for BRAC, USACE sought to preselect four or five contractors, each making proposals based on new standards and requirements, then make awards based on a fast response, cost and time, and quick construction.

“There also is a great emphasis on completion of construction,” Rozenblat added. “Normally, on a MILCON program, the award of the contract is the goal. But with our Sept. 15, 2011, [BRAC] deadline, we are very careful in measuring how construction is going, with an additional monitoring requirement by the Corps and all the other Army components, making sure all projects are completed.”

With all of this under way in the midst of an ongoing war, and the recent occurrence of several major natural disasters, such as the Haiti earthquake, even the best-laid plans are subject to delay and change.

“Our construction mission, in a lot of cases, is predicated by the movement timelines of the Army,” Penski concluded. “If you have activities in buildings we are going to renovate or in the construction footprint of a new building going up, that can’t happen until the unit has made its exodus. We also have to start the purchase of long-lead items based on known movement schedules. In a lot of cases, we have had to adjust our construction schedule to work around those, where in the traditional MILCON arena, you get a clean footprint, ready to go.

“Everything in the BRAC program happens at a rapid-fire pace, with no rest for the weary; our program is the leading indicator for the Army’s success in meeting BRAC compliance. Without facilities, none of these movements could happen, even though the law only talks about closures and movements, not facilities construction,” Penski said.

Major BRAC Accomplishments as of Aug. 31, 2010:

  • Obligated 86 percent of the $16 billion received;
  • Awarded 323 major military construction projects – 107 of which have been completed;
  • Completed or initiated 55 percent (633 of 1,147) actions required to complete the Army BRAC recommendations;
  • Closed six major Army installations (Kansas, Mississippi, Lone Star, and Riverbank Army Ammunition Plants, Newport Chemical Depot, U.S. Army Garrison-Selfridge) and one minor (C.E. Kelly Support Center), and 25 U.S. Army Reserve Centers; and
  • Disposed of 4,308 acres of excess property.

This article first appeared in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Building Strong®: Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces 2010-2011 Edition.

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...