As the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act approaches its sixth month on the books, the General Services Administration’s $5.5-billion ARRA-funded program to build or upgrade scores of federal buildings suddenly has begun to take off. But critics continue to complain that other agencies are not turning their construction stimulus money into jobs-producing contracts fast enough.

Commerce Dept. job tops list.
Photo: Grunley Construction Co.
Commerce Dept. job tops list.

After taking about six weeks just to produce its list of stimulus projects, GSA has shifted into overdrive. It has awarded contracts totaling nearly $1.1 billion for projects involving about 120 buildings. Twenty of those projects account for more than $940 million of that total.

Most of those funding commitments came in a burst of awards announced since early July, according to Anthony Costa, acting commissioner of GSA’s Public Buildings Service. “At least 20 of the 120 projects are already under construction,” he told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at a July 31 hearing. “The rest will begin soon.”

Even more GSA recovery-act work is on the way. Costa says the agency plans to award another $1 billion in ARRA contracts by Dec. 31, with the goal of having 91% of the $5.5 billion under contract by Sept. 30, 2010.

“I think it’s probably the conventional wisdom that GSA took a while to get the procurement machine moving as fast as it wanted to,” says Jim Whitaker, vice president and national director of Skanska USA Building’s Federal Center of Excellence, Arlington, Va. But, he adds, “In the past three weeks, there is no doubt that the agency’s been on a buying spree—no question.” Skanska won two major ARRA renovation contracts in GSA’s July push: a $60-million award for a federal building in Jackson, Miss., and a $35-million contract for a federal building/courthouse in Orlando.

Mike Crase, senior manager of Gilbane Building Co.’s federal services group in Laurel, Md., says GSA’s stimulus projects range “across the country, from Florida to Montana to California to New York,” and include prospective work for architects, engineers, construction managers and general contractors.

A 50-50 joint venture of Gilbane and Grunley Construction Co., Rockville, Md., was awarded GSA’s largest stimulus-act contract so far: $158 million for the next two phases of a major overhaul of the Commerce Dept.’s huge headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Kenneth Grunley, president of Grunley Construction, notes that the same team was awarded the project’s first phase in 2007 and was nearly finished with that part of the job when the new award was announced. Grunley says his firm also won GSA ARRA contracts for new phases of renovations of two other Washington, D.C., buildings: One is the Interior Dept. headquarters, and the other houses offices of the Health and Human Services Dept. Grunley previously had completed earlier phases of those projects.

Anthony Costa
GSA plans to have another $1 billion under contract by Dec. 31.

The wave of GSA contracts is welcome news for design and construction firms struggling in the recession. Flocks of companies are chasing the work, making winning the contracts extremely tough. “The competition is far fiercer than I have ever seen,” says Skanska’s Whitaker, a 20-year veteran of government markets. Of the ARRA contracts Skanska won, he says, “We started out in bid fields in excess of 30 on each project.” Even the short lists contained 15 to 20 firms.

“I think the competition is very stiff,” says Kip Daniel, a managing director with The Beck Group, Dallas. So far, Beck has bid on four GSA stimulus projects and in July won a $34-million contract to renovate a post office/federal courthouse in San Antonio. “Every contractor that I hear about or talk to is saying, ‘We’ve got to go where the...