Efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to streamline design costs on similar types of military facilities now being built and planned on bases around the U.S. have industry firms worried the agency is backing away from use of design-build and aims to manage more design work in-house. Critics claim the strategy could hike the government’s level of risk and expense.

Practitioners are concerned about what they see as a shifting approach for about 44 types of structures such as barracks and child-development centers now being managed by Corps “centers of standardization” around the U.S. under the military’s construction-reform effort. They worry that, as early as this year, procurements will reflect more traditional design-bid-build strategies, with greater use of building information modeling and the Corps managing tasks to adapt standard facility designs to individual base conditions. “This saves our design dollars,” says James C. Dalton, a Corps construction official. “We made the decision from day one not to design projects over and over again. But the purpose here is not to eliminate use of outside firms.”

Some company executives claim the approach leaves design-build firms out of the loop and could boost change orders and costs. “We respect what the Corps wants to do in standardizing a particular design and site-adapting it at a particular location,” says Ron Brown, executive vice president of Sundt Corp., Phoenix. “But we’re not in tune with not allowing a contractor to develop a design-build team to do the site-adapt.”

Patrick A. Burns, vice president of federal contracting for Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis, says, “If the Corps returns to a largely design-bid-build program, even with 80% BIM models, it will lose the synergy of ‘best of breed’ ideas from designers and gen­eral contractors that has helped achieve cost, schedule and quality goals.”