By Mike McAndrew, SES, and Col. Sal Nodjomian, P.E., F.SAME (Dist.), USAF (Ret.)
As federal construction programs have grown in scope, complexity, and urgency, the need for increased communication between government and their industry partners has grown as well. Laying a foundation of trust and partnership at the start of a project reaps dividends later when navigating the unforeseen challenges that inevitably arise— leading to better outcomes for both parties.
Solid partnership also increases the likelihood of projects being delivered within the expected schedule and budget. This has become especially visible since the pandemic affected supply chains and material prices and inflation soared, resulting in severely challenged cost estimates as just one example. In FY2023, for context, the defense budget includes $3.8 billion to account for inflation in military construction contracts.
Critical as partnership is to success, it has not always been established at the onset of every project. Whereas partnering had been a frequent aspect of federal construction a few decades ago, finding considerable adoption in the early 1990s, in recent years it had seen its impact shrink. As the process atrophied, the less it was emphasized. Fewer champions were advocating for its inclusion. A generation of industry and government professionals eventually would not see partnering as a priority; some even viewed it as a distraction. This dynamic began to change for the better a few years ago, however, through the collaborative efforts of several A/E/C professionals who had been involved in successful partnering (both with government and industry) and felt it was direly missing from federal construction.
IDENTIFYING THE ISSUE
The current pathway to where we are today began in 2017, in a room with a few dozen senior industry and government leaders. During the CEO Roundtable at the SAME Small Business Conference in Pittsburgh, one of the topics of interest identified was construction project partnering between the government and the contractor. More aptly, it was the lack of partnering between the government and the private sector that was brought to the table for discussion. Instantly, the issue became the focus of the meeting.
The main concern of industry was that the relationship between the government and contractor partners appeared to be deteriorating and becoming more adversarial over time, which was negatively impacting both parties. On the government side, important capital improvement projects for military installations were being delivered late and over budget, negatively impacting national security missions. On the industry side, firms were losing money and their reputations were being tarnished, both informally and formally through the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System.
From these discussions, an industry-government engagement (IGE) effort was enacted through SAME and formally endorsed by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment. In the five years since, we have seen considerable progress with partnering, and we are proud to share several important and tangible results.
For example, following recommendations by the IGE working group, guidance in Unified Facilities Guide Specifications 01 30 00 was updated in November 2020 to include both formal and informal partnering requirements. Similarly, NAVFAC Instruction 11013.40B was updated in October 2020, focusing on project partnering on facili- ties construction projects. USACE published a Construction Project Partnering Playbook in April 2022, demonstrating a renewed focus on project partnering, partially born out of the IGE efforts.
The initial focus of the IGE effort targeted post- award partnering between the government and the contractor. Following initial discussion with members of industry and identification of the issues, a working group of industry members—including general contractors, architects, and engineers—and government representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC), and Air Force Civil Engineer Center, convened over several months. Through these working groups, a series of recommendations were developed and formally presented at the 2018 SAME Small Business Conference in New Orleans. Since then, many of these recommendations have been implemented and formally adopted by federal government stakeholders.
Following these early successes, the IGE team expanded the scope into other areas of partnering and project delivery. Through discussions with government and industry representatives, it was recognized that partnering challenges were not inherent to government organizations and industry, but rather that challenges existed within the government organizations as well.
Project sponsors of military construction projects identified several common items, including the fact that facilities and infrastructure were either late to need or fell short of meeting the end user’s full requirements. Construction agents often countered with the fact that they were brought into the requirements development process too late, and once initial budgets were submitted and locked in, their hands were effectively tied in what and when they could deliver. Several other anecdotal examples were provided throughout the IGE effort, with the main takeaway being that early collaboration and communication between government stakeholders was missing, and needed to be addressed to ensure more successful project delivery.
To address this issue, we developed a new IGE effort centered on Pre-Award Partnering and the team established a series of desired improvements and deliverables, with the central piece of the focus being the Project Management Agreement (PMA).
The PMA is a tool deliberately focused on improving government collaboration early in the requirements development process. It incorporates aspects of a Project Charter and a Project Management Plan as defined by the Project Management Institute into an agreement between key project stakeholders that articulates expectations and agreements in several important areas like scope, schedule, budget, staffing, and reporting. Importantly, numerous industry partners, representing both design and construction firms, were consulted in order to better understand the challenges they faced when government requirements were not clearly communicated.
Over the course of developing the PMA and conducting several testing spirals, it was confirmed that the agreement is a powerful tool that increases the likelihood of a project being successfully awarded and executed. It was also confirmed that the PMA process itself is highly valuable and is where partnerships truly take shape and flourish. The framework of the PMA provides government stakeholders with a structured approach to discuss the project requirements and risks, allowing the project team to focus on what success looks like so it is understood and accepted by all. The frame- work encourages dialogue with respect to risk as it relates to the many factors typically impacting success, resulting in a populated risk register as an appendix of the PMA. Most importantly, the agreement opens dialogue between stakeholders and results in a shared understanding of all aspects of the project, early enough in the process to affect change to budgets, timing, or overall scope—and before delays or other issues associated with poor planning can affect mission readiness.
The PMA was shaped through the IGE effort and is currently being tested by both government and industry partners, with the ultimate goal of mandating use across the Defense Department in 2024. Without SAME and the IGE construct in place to facilitate high-level and meaningful collaboration, we may not have developed this exciting process and product.
PILOT PMA PROJECTS
In developing the PMA, input was gathered both from a variety of stakeholders and real-world pilot programs. Stakeholders involved in testing the document include the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines Corps, NAVFAC, USACE, AFCEC, Defense Health Agency, and Defense Logistics Agency. There are several completed and ongoing pilot programs utilizing the PMA.
|U.S. Army||Barracks||Fort Campbell|
|U.S. Army||Guided Missile Maintenance Building||Letterkenny Army Depot|
|Department of the Navy|
U.S. Marine Corps
|P-1556 10th Marines Operational Complex (Complete)||Camp Lejeune|
|Department of the Navy|
|P-200 Submarine Simulator Training Facility Expansion||Nuclear Power Training Unit Charleston|
|Department of the Air Force|
U.S. Air Force
|B-21 Low Observable Restoration Facility||Dyess AFB|
|Department of the Air Force|
U.S. Air Force
|B-21 Armament Storage Facility||Whiteman AFB|
|Department of the Air Force|
U.S. Air Force
|B-21 Radio Frequency Hangar||Whiteman AFB|
|Defense Health Agency||Hospital Replacement||RAF Mildenhall|
|Defense Logistics Agency||F-22 Fueling System (Complete)||Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson|
By leveraging high-level collaboration between government agencies and industry partners, this effort to better set federal construction projects up for success through strong partnering has seen and will continue to see impressive results.
The more that we can assemble forward-thinking leaders from both government and industry around the same table to discuss issues afflicting the A/E/C community and project delivery, the better the chances are to develop multidisciplined solutions to national security infrastructure challenges.
IGE AT SAME
After the smoke and dust of the “The War to End All Wars” settled, Maj. Gen. William Black, USA, U.S. Army Chief of Engineers, envisioned an “association of engineers” to preserve and expand upon connections formed in war and advance engineering and related professions across public and private domains. Industry and military leaders recognized the importance of capturing technical lessons and camaraderie forged in combat and the need to create an engineering-based organization focused on sharing ideas to ensure readiness for the nation’s civil and military needs. The vision became reality in 1920, when private and public sector engineering leaders gathered at fledgling SAME Posts to jointly discuss national security requirements—an effort today we call IGE.
Strengthening engagement between industry and government is the cornerstone on which the Society was founded and remains mission-essential for the organization a century later. The last few years, however, have seen an even more renewed emphasis on IGE within SAME—quite simply, because it works. It serves as the first goal of the 2025 SAME Strategic Plan and is the only required element that local Posts must contribute to as part of the Streamers Program.
Along with efforts focused primarily on partnering, ongoing IGE projects at the national level are tackling numerous other challenges. Some of these challenges, such as the accuracy of cost estimating and the timeliness and appropriate use of the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System, have been problematic for years. Others, such as exploration of Alternative Delivery Methods and use of Other Transactional Authorities for construction, are somewhat new and intended to help government address the challenges presented by an ever-changing marketplace.
By providing a platform for the open discussion and collaboration needed and bringing stakeholders from across government and industry to the same table, SAME is driving multidisciplined solutions to some of the greatest infrastructure challenges facing our nation.
Mike McAndrew, SES, is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Construction and Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Installations.
Col. Sal Nodjomian, P.E., F.SAME (Dist.), USAF (Ret.), is CEO, Matrix Design Group Inc.; sal.nodjomian@ matrixdesigngroup.com.
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