Courtesy of MHC

Design-build firms that work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies got a much-needed boost in 2012. Lisa Washington, executive director of the Design-Build Institute of America, led the formation of a coalition of industry groups that succeeded in getting the Corps to issue a new procurement directive.


Officially called "Limitations on the Use of One-Step Procedures for Design-Build," the directive restricts use of single-step design-build on Corps' projects nationwide.

Industry insiders have long argued that "one step" is expensive and defeats the collaborative purpose of design-build. Instead, they advocate for a two-step system favored by DBIA, the Associated General Contractors of America, the American Council of Engineering Cos. and the American Institute of Architects, among others. Washington led the group in urging the Corps to embrace two-step design-build.

The DBIA-led coalition sought a two-step proposal process that first short-lists three firms rather than five or more, uses performance-based rather than prescriptive requirements and encourages payment of meaningful stipends to bidding teams.

Under single step, firms spend significant time and money on their designs with less chance of winning the work.

"More creativity at less cost is the real intent of design-build," Washington says. "Some [owners] say single step is faster—it isn't—or that a [low-bid] number up front offers them best value—it doesn't."

"A lot of people worked hard to get Corps attention on the [design-build best-practices] issue," says Bill Green, president of engineer RMH Group, Lakewood, Colo. "But Lisa spearheaded the effort and met with the Corps to make it happen."

DBIA says design-build is now used on 40% of all U.S. projects, so the goal is to get industry to use it correctly.

Washington has been pushing design-build best practices during her nine-year DBIA tenure. Revenue from DBIA's "Education Tour" program has grown to $1.4 million in 2011 from $30,000 in 2004.