What Happens in Vegas…Comes Back to Washington

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What Happens in Vegas…Comes Back to Washington

by Louis J. Jenny | November 14, 2013

In the last month, I attended two conferences (both in Las Vegas!) and had a chance to talk with a lot of people from across a wide swath of the country, including owners and those in the architecture/engineering/construction industry. Here are a few takeaways:

First, while enthusiasm for design-build was expected at DBIA’s conference, the discussions I had with fellow attendees at the Construction Management Association of America’s annual event on design-build indicate a growing interest in the delivery method, and in particular, design-build done right. My strong sense was that attendees recognized that the use of design-build has grown exponentially in the past several years, and that their best chance of capitalizing on its growth is to become an expert in DBIA Best Practices. Since the CMAA conference, I’ve been busy — along with the rest of the DBIA team — following up with folks I met on their requests for information and their interest in DBIA education, certification and membership.

The second takeaway, though perhaps predictable, was that people are frustrated with Washington. The CMAA conference occurred just days after the federal government reopened following a 16 day shutdown. As we all know, this shutdown happened because Congress failed to pass even the simplest funding legislation. To be sure, the formal funding process is a cumbersome one and in fact Congress has not completely finished that process before the start of a new fiscal year in nearly two decades. However, in previous years Congress almost always has been able to pass short-term “continuing resolutions” to keep things going. Not this time.

Couple that dysfunction with the ongoing sequestration (the mandatory across the board spending cuts) and we have a federal funding process that feels as if no one is in charge. This, of course, makes it very difficult for agencies to do even the simple mid-term planning that is required for projects – design-build or otherwise – to get off the ground. For example, in October Department of Defense contracts fell 66 percent to $15.7 billion and we still don’t know for certain if there will be further cuts.

What’s next in the frustrating incremental federal appropriations process? By December 13th, Congress is supposed to come to an agreement on a broad budget for FY 2014 (which started many weeks ago). Then, on January 15th all government funding will dry up again unless a broad appropriations bill or another kick-the-can-down-road continuing resolution is passed.

So, while there is much interest in and excitement over design-build across the country, and federal, state and municipal jurisdictions are increasing their use of design-build, there is also frustration, even bewilderment, with the federal political environment and the uncertainty it is creating. At DBIA, we are hopeful that these two conflicting feelings will come together to create a silver lining. Since tight budgets create great demand for government efficiency and there is wide interest in innovation and quality, we have the opportunity to educate key federal decision makers that they can have both with design-build project delivery.

There is little we can do to convince Congress to be less frustrating, but we can work to include language in bills that authorize funding for design-build projects and expand design-build done right. That is exactly what we’re doing with the Design-Build Efficiency & Jobs Act, and what we are beginning to do on MAP-21 renewal.

To learn about these efforts, see our Federal Advocacy section, and keep checking back to Design-Build-Blog for more updates.