For acquisition experts in the Corps, the economic downturn presents challenges as well. One is sifting through the steadily increasing number of bidders. “It may be taking us a little longer, but the good side is more competition,” Tyler said.
Several other factors also are promoting cost-effective construction. One is the Corps’ ongoing MILCON transformation initiative, which seeks to reduce costs by delivering construction in less time. As part of this transformation, USACE is continuing to move toward standard designs of all major facilities such as barracks, dining halls, child development centers, and headquarters facilities.
“The goal is to reduce costs and deliver construction in less time,” Tyler noted. To help in this process, the Corps has created Centers of Standardization to develop standard designs for these facilities.
The general strategy is to switch from a “design/build” process, in which contractors submit designs after award of the construction, to an “adapt/build” philosophy. Under “adapt/build,” private industry no longer needs to go through a costly design process. Instead, its task is to use Corps-approved standard designs and adapt them to a particular project.
For example, a standard dining facility will have certain basic design elements regardless of location. On a project-by-project basis, contractors will work with the Corps to adapt the design for certain site-specific requirements. These include different materials or heating/cooling systems depending on whether the dining facility is in a warm or cool climate.
Regardless of the site modifications, however, the basic design remains the same. “The goal is that all service personnel will have access to the same high-quality facility,” he said.
For this effort, USACE relies on Centers of Standardization, which craft the basic designs. Corps regional offices now house these centers, though the process still requires some adjustment. “The old way of doing business didn’t reflect best industry practices,” Tyler said. Instead of overly prescriptive construction requirements, the new policy holds private contractors to core goals but allows flexibility.
While the new policies are producing savings, there continues to be a need for education about the new requirements. “We have three cultures that are changing: the Corps culture, the culture of the installation, and the culture of industry,” Tyler said.
Such changes are welcome due to the sheer size of another MILCON priority – the 2005 BRAC requirements, which affect more than 800 locations across the United States. More than 40,000 Soldiers and their families will move from Europe and Korea as the United States develops a more flexible force. Some of the greatest changes are at Fort Bliss, Texas, where about 15,000 Soldiers and their families will move by 2011.
Instead of a division-based system, BRAC calls for the Army to rely on a brigade-centric operation with both light and heavy brigade combat teams that can move quickly to a battlefield across the globe. The realignment requires thousands of actions to build new facilities for Soldiers and brigade teams, with additional consolidation and enhancement for medical facilities.
Along with standardization and realignment, another major trend at USACE is environmentally friendly construction. The military is to build facilities that conform to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council. While USACE’s goal is to build at least to LEED Silver standards, the Corps exceeded this goal at Fort Carson, Colo. There, the Corps won the LEED Gold standard for the new 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division Brigade and Battalion Headquarters built under BRAC.
For the Fort Carson project, Hensel Phelps Construction Co. and RNL Designs took the standard Army design requirements and added environmentally friendly practices. Innovative elements include native plants, natural daylight, and an interior courtyard. The facility also uses reflective, energy efficient windows to provide a sustainable building.
Overseas contingency operations also remain a priority for USACE. Nearly 900 Corps employees are deployed overseas for contingency operations, most of them in Iraq and Afghanistan. That number represents about 2.5 percent of the total USACE workforce.
While most of the work has focused on Iraq for the past seven years, the workload is increasing in Afghanistan as the United States supports infrastructure development and construction of new facilities. “There are many people over there putting themselves in harm’s way,” Tyler noted. “They are always high on our priority list.”
Given the Corps’ increased workload – both domestic and overseas – the agency has added more employees in its military programs mission area. In 2006, USACE had 8,983 full-time equivalent employees in military programs, he said. In 2009, there are 10,400 FTEs, an increase of more than 1,400 during the past three years.
Still, given the Corps’ record-breaking amount of military programs work, officials do see an eventual end to this growth period. “This is the last year we’ll break the record,” Tyler said. But he credits that partly to the stimulus bill as well as BRAC-related spending. The realignment and closure funding peaks in 2009, then begins to gear down as BRAC moves toward completion by September 2011. “Soon,” he noted, “we will get back to normal.”