A U.S. House-approved $585-billion Dept. of Defense authorization bill includes design-build provisions that will benefit contractors and architects who seek DOD projects, including a cap on the number of short-listed firms and a ban on "reverse auctions."

The bill, which the House passed on Dec. 4 by a bipartisan 300-119 vote, is expected to clear the Senate before the lame-duck session ends. The House had approved a different version of the measure in May but the Senate never acted on it.

The newly approved House bill, which authorizes funds for DOD programs, has some controversial provisions, such as additional money to defeat ISIS and other terrorist organizations, but the Senate is expected to approve it.

Design and construction industry officials call the bill's construction-related provisions a victory and the culmination of several years of lobbying.

Jimmy Christianson, Associated General Contractors of America director of government affairs, says the DOD measure “is a place where we find we can get some real reforms enacted to help the construction industry.”

One provision limits the number of firms that can be short-listed finalists during a design-build, two-step process.

Another bars reverse auctions—a form of procurement in which firms bid online in real time—on DOD design-build projects.

Specifically, the legislation requires written justification by an agency's “head of contracting” when more than five finalists are short-listed in a two-step, design-build DOD contract of more than $4 million.

Under current law, a contracting officer alone can short-list more than five firms in any contract.

But construction industry groups, which included AGC, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), American Subcontractors Association, and Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), did not get everything they wanted in the bill.

Lawmakers who drafted the final version did not inculde a construction-backed provision that would have required individual sureties to comply with the same standards as corporate sureties.

Also omitted from the final measure was a industry-supported limitation on single-step or turnkey design-build projects.

Still, the associations are upbeat. Andrew Goldberg, AIA managing director of government relations, says, “This is a very important first step because it is the first time Congress is really going on record and putting into the law some provisions that are really going to help architecture and engineering firms go for design-build and really start to deal with the challenges they face with these very, very long shortlists that are forcing them to advance more and more money just to win a job.”

Louis J. Jenny, DBIA vice president of advocacy and outreach, says that construction and design groups' coalition, is “already discussing and planning ways to expand on this win, including extending the provisions to civil contracts and limiting single-step/turnkey design-build.”

With only a few days left in the lame-duck session, however, that will have to wait until next year, Jenny says.




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