2023 Recap: DBIA Advocacy and Highlights in Federal Design-Build Legislation

Throughout 2023, most of the focus of federal legislation was on implementing the various infrastructure funding bills passed in prior years. However, there were some developments related to design-build on the legislative front worth reporting. Let’s delve into the noteworthy highlights from last year, exploring the landscape of federal design-build legislation and examining DBIA’s impactful advocacy efforts. 

Progressive Design-Build on the Horizon

An intriguing development has been the growing interest in Progressive Design-Build (PDB) for federal projects. Two separate House Committees have urged the Department of Defense (DOD) to explore the potential of PDB in military endeavors, recognizing its capacity to bring about efficiencies in construction contracts.

One 2023 report from a House Appropriations Subcommittee stated, “The Committee encourages the Department to review Progressive Design-Build as a potential construction contract method as it may provide efficiencies.”

As the DOD undertakes this critical review, DBIA plays a pivotal role in offering information and support, presenting a unique opportunity to broaden the spectrum of project delivery options within the federal market.

Furthermore, the House passed a bipartisan Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill last July that included a provision that could authorize PDB for airport construction funded by federal dollars. The pilot program described in the bill would authorize at least five airports to undertake projects using PDB to explore whether advanced construction methods lead to faster and more cost-efficient airport projects. The goal is to determine whether these new approaches can make building at airports quicker and more affordable.

The outcome of the bill remains uncertain, but Congress will likely pass some FAA reauthorization this year. If this provision is included, it could usher in a paradigm shift in federal project delivery methodologies. DBIA is working with the provision’s champion to see it become law. 

National Defense Authorization Act: Raising the Cap on One-Step Design-Build Procedures

For a five-year period, the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) elevates the cap on the use of “turn-key” or one-step design-build procedures for DOD repair projects from $4 million to $8 million. 

DBIA, alongside coalition partners, conveyed opposition to this provision to the relevant Congressional Committees. In a letter to leaders of the House Armed Services Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee, DBIA explained that, “One-step design-build is not an industry accepted best practice, could lead to inefficiencies and waste, and decrease the likelihood of successful repair projects.” Despite these concerns, the temporary $8 million cap represents an improvement over the initially proposed $12 million cap, as outlined by the Senate earlier in the year.

Design-Build Water Projects and WIFIA Funding

Congresswoman Kim Schrier (D-WA) proposed 2023 bipartisan legislation aimed at enhancing the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation (WIFIA) program. The bill seeks to bolster WIFIA by extending funding, expanding loan eligibility and implementing common sense reforms. The proposed changes include widening funding and financing eligibility for state entities and non-federal cost shares, authorizing collaborative project delivery methods –– including design-build –– for increased flexibility, allowing longer maturity dates for certain federal water infrastructure loans, and reauthorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) WIFIA program through FY2027. The fate of this bill during the current congressional session remains uncertain, casting a shadow on its potential impact on design-build water projects.

Looking back at 2023’s significant legislative strides and advocacy efforts, a clearer picture of federal design-build initiatives emerges. A growing interest in PDB and the pursuit of clarity for water projects underscore ongoing efforts to innovate and streamline federal construction endeavors. With an ever-evolving AEC landscape, DBIA will continue its proactive engagement and coalition building to help advocate and champion for expanded design-build project delivery in the federal realm.

Each year, DBIA hosts the Federal Design-Build Symposium to discuss the impact of these and other legislative initiatives and how they influence the AEC industry, specifically for design-build projects. Mark your calendars for this year’s event taking place Aug. 21-22, 2024, at the Hyatt Regency Reston in Virginia. If you have federal design-build experience and would like to share with symposium attendees, the call for presentations opens Wednesday, Jan. 17. Be on the lookout for more information in the coming weeks.