Driven by a need for speedy delivery and an overarching demand for energy-efficient systems, federal buildings appear ready for a significant facelift in the near future, if proposed stimulus funds come through.
Within the stimulus package proposed by House Democrats, the U.S. General Services Administration and Dept. of Defense-related facilities would be among the bill’s big beneficiaries. The current package calls for $7.7 billion for GSA, including $6 billion for buildings with an emphasis on energy-efficiency upgrades and $1 billion for border stations. Also, more than $11 billion could flow toward defense-related work.
Other significant federal funding proposals include $950 million for Veterans Administration facilities, $1.5 billion for university research facility construction under the National Institutes of Health and $500 million to modernize the NIH campus.
— Proposed for federal building energy efficiency, Park Service, National Mall and Bureau of Indian Affairs
In keeping with President Barack Obama’s call to emphasize green jobs and reduce federal energy use, the stimulus bill focuses on federal projects that have the greatest impact on energy efficiency and conservation. In recent years, GSA has been pressured by mandates within the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy and Independence and Security Act of 2007 to ramp up efforts to upgrade facilities with green systems.
The Associated General Contractors estimates there are nearly $40 billion in unfunded needs for federal upgrades. But under the stimulus package, agencies such as GSA would be required to award work within three to four months of its passage. Andrew Goldberg, senior director of federal relations with the American Institute of Architects, suggests that GSA currently has at least $10 billion in work that is “ready-to-go.”
— Proposed for Dept. of Defense energy efficiency, DOD hospitals, troop housing, veterans medical facilities
Opportunities within any funding package could rely heavily on the definition of ready-to-go. Kevin Kampschroer, acting director of GSA’s Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, says the agency has yet to compile a priority list of projects for a possible stimulus package, but he expects a broad mix of work to be available for the entire industry. “If we have a design that was done five years ago, before the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was passed, there would be work needed to bring it up to today’s expectations,” he says. “There are a lot of potential opportunities.”
Some of that potential could hinge on how federal agencies choose to procure work. Many analysts suggest that traditional design-bid-build methods won’t work under the timelines suggested within the stimulus package.
Defense-related projects could also face procurement challenges. The proposal calls for $4.5 billion in DOD facilities improvements. Another $3.75 billion is recommended for DOD hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers. Troop housing would receive $1.55 billion. Patrick Burns, vice president of Minneapolis-based M.A. Mortenson’s federal contracting group, expects the military to rely heavily on multiple award contracts to handle the bulk of work—a method that would greatly favor prequalified general contractors. For major projects, he expects most jobs to follow a CM-at-risk-type model.
Of greater concern to many contractors is the ability of government contracting agents to handle the load of projects that could enter the pipeline. Larry Bory, vice president of federal government relations for Omaha-based HDR, says the recent slowdown has led many agencies to lay off employees who handle plan reviews and contract negotiations. “There’s a finite amount of capacity in how fast things can move,” he says, hinting that agencies may need program managers to administer these contracts. “I don’t see how they can do it on their own.”