PANEL DISCUSSION: HOW TO MAKE INNOVATION PART OF THE PROCESS
Harvey M. Bernstein
Civil Engineering Research Foundation
The purpose of this panel discussion is to try to understand some of the issues and elements of incorporating innovation into the process of conducting business in the construction industry and hopefully to come up with some suggestions for improvement.
A first step in the process of looking at our industry's long-term needs and strategies was taken with the creation of the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF) by the American Society of Civil Engineers. CERF's mission is to bring together diverse groups within the civil engineering community, serving as a catalyst to help the design and construction industry expedite the transfer of research results and innovation into practice.
We can only commercialize and apply new products and processes in the construction industry if we harness the skills and interests of the diverse communities that comprise our industry. There are two parts to be considered in trying to get innovation to the marketplace--the people and the process.
Our fragmented industry is like a puzzle, and we all represent a piece of the puzzle. The panel will take a look at getting all the players together and at the cross-section of steps that we have to go through to move innovation into practice in the marketplace. In the very beginning of the process, innovators come up against barriers and deterrents which include labor, regulatory agencies, and government agencies. Navigating these barriers requires steps that include research studies, pilot programs, codes and standards that have to be developed, technology transfer, and federal agency approvals in accordance with regulations.
The following panel discussion focuses on what we can do to try and bring all these various pieces together. What we are striving for, in a general sense, is to pull together all the players in the industry —the manufacturers, the innovators—and all the steps in the process independently of what kind of innovation we are trying to utilize, whether it be a product, a design, a process,
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Thomas V. Bee is a professional engineer with over 30 years of experience in a wide variety of assignments with the Department of Defense. He currently serves as Deputy Director of Energy and Engineering in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He began his engineering career with the Chicago District Corps of Engineers in 1965 inspecting construction. He later worked in planning, design and project management for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command at Great Lakes; as a staff engineer for the Naval Reserve Command; a project manager for the development of the Trident Submarine Base at Bangor, Washington; as staff engineer for the Chief of Army Reserve; and on various assignments within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Mr. Bee received his civil engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1965. Prior to that, he served in the United States Air Force as a Russian linguist.
HOW TO MAKE INNOVATION PART OF THE PROCESS
Thomas V. Bee
Office of the Secretary of Defense
In preparing for this topic, I was thinking about all the innovation we had seen since the Pentagon was built in 1942. Those innovations include plywood and drywall, ready-mix trucks and my favorite, the skill saw. You can still see the impressions of the old, rough-sawn form boards on the walls of the Pentagon. The Pentagon is the largest office building in the world. Officially it contains 6.6 million sq ft of gross floor area but that was before we filled in a few of the rings and added a second deck in the basement.
The Pentagon was built in just 16 months. They occupied part of it in eight months. It cost $2 million dollars to build. That was 50 years ago. Today, after all of this innovation, our renovation of the Pentagon is scheduled for 12 to 16 years. Something has gone wrong!
I want to take a minute to talk about facts and figures. Table 1 gives a break-out of the Department of Defense (DoD) construction budget. We think
TABLE 1 Defense Construction ($ billions)
Major Military Construction
Base Closure and Realignment
Minor Construction & Repair
Energy & Water Conservation
that the Department of Defense, alone, does about 5 percent of the vertical non-residential construction in this country annually. The major military construction program within the Department of Defense totals about $3 billion in the 1996 budget. About $2 billion is allocated to base closures. The Corps of Engineers and the Naval Facilities Engineering Command do a large part of the construction. There's also about $5 billion worth of minor construction and major repair and renovation work that is contracted locally. Sometimes we find that they're doing innovative things there that we're not doing with our major programs. The DoD has a small energy or environmental program. The non-appropriated construction is about $400 million in profits from our clubs and commissaries and exchanges. We build additional clubs, commissaries, and exchanges and welfare and recreational facilities with that. For FY 1996, the total is about $11 billion and that's about the same level of funding for DoD's construction program as past years.
The Department of Commerce's figures on construction indicate that the nation's commercial construction is around $200 billion a year, excluding single-family residential construction and highway programs. That would indicate that the DoD and the federal government play a fairly large role in the construction business, enough to influence the rest of the industry and foster some innovation. If we band together, it will be so much the better.
Who are the innovators? I came up with five categories: a visionary who says, “I have a great idea”; an encourager who says, “That's a great idea”; the rediscoverer who goes out and rediscovers and collects other people's ideas; the implementor who says, “Let's get together and do this”; and finally the acceptor who says “Okay, I'll do it their way.” There is a flip side. Those are the guys that don't have any ideas; those that say, “That won't work”; those that don't know anyone who has an idea; and those that say “We can't do it” or “We won't do it.”
How many people think converting the construction industry to the metric system is going to be good for our country? Good for the industry? How many people think that foreign students do better in math and science than American students? Kids usually stumble in math when they start working with word problems. This problem is about calculating the floor area to get your carpet torn out and replaced. You are to get carpet removed, installed, and scotch guarded at a set price per measured floor area. How much will it cost?
Size 12 ft 5-3/4 in × 13 ft 2-5/8 in
3/4 = .75
5/8 = .625
5.75 in × 1 ft 12 in = .48 ft
2.625 in × 1 ft 12 in = .22 ft
12.48 ft × 13.22 × yd/9 ft2=18.33 yd2
18.33 yd2 × $13.24/yd2=$242.69
Size 3.804 m × 4.029 m
3.804 m × 4.029 m × $15.83/m2 = $242.69
Who do you think is going to get the right answer and who is going to get it fastest? Children using metric or children using the English system? Pierre and Marie have only one function to perform. George and Mary need to do six. Who do you think will solve the problem first? Who is more likely to make an error?
Thomas Jefferson tried to convince our country to adopt the metric system. He was a consensus builder. Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand, believed in a strong central government. He didn't try to gain consensus before changing our money system. Otherwise, we might still be dealing with pounds and shillings. Try working our problem with that if you really believe in the English system.
The point of all this is that the government must play a role in innovation. There simply is no other organization big enough to effect change in the construction industry. And the secret is to work together.
Now if we work together, there are lots of things that we can do:
Licensed architects or engineers act as building officials
Convert to metric
Dictionary of standard terms
One model code
One model guide specification
Listing of all products that meet the model specification
Licensed architects or engineers acting as building officials has to do with one of my recent experiences in county government. It occurred to me that there wasn't a lot of value added in the building approval process by county
governments and building authorities. If we have licensed engineers and architects that are actually doing the design, they should know the building codes as well as the people that review it at the county offices. As a profession, we ought to have architects and engineers licensed as building officials.
The purpose of a dictionary is to define terms so that when someone is talking about a square foot or a net square foot or gross square foot it means the same thing to everyone.
I do not see why we cannot have one model building code, and I do not see why the federal government cannot leverage it. We have two of the code groups that are working together. Maybe we should just adopt their product. With the federal government accounting for 15 to 20 percent of the nation's construction, the government could force that merger.
One model guide specification could bring the lessons that we have learned back into our design criteria. We often talk about the need for communication. The only way we're going to get the lessons that we've learned into future construction is through up-to-date guide specifications. Who is learning the lessons in this business? The DoD constructs about $12 billion worth of facilities a year. I don 't know who else is building a program like that, unless maybe it's being done in Japan. We also manage 400,000 buildings. Somebody ought to have learned something from managing those 400,000 buildings that can feed back into our guide specifications and criteria. I think we need to have a good guide specification, where everyone works together on it. We can gain from everyone's information. Eventually one model guide specification that can be used both within the government and within the private sector could be developed. We say that you cannot do that because of procurement rules and regulations, but I think we can get around that also, if we work together.
A listing of all the current construction products that meet the guide specifications is going to be done because the law requires it, at least for the energy work. We have the money to start the program rolling. And, if the industry works together with us, we will get that done. Once that is done, people in the industry will have an idea of what's “good enough for the government” and perhaps, eventually, that will be a standard of excellence. The industry can use the data that we have. Again, we have lots of data, but not really good access to it. We need to foster better access to our data.
Those are my ideas on how the federal government can foster innovation in the construction industry. The way to implement those ideas is to work together.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Daniel Delich is a professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He joined the committee after serving four years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where his duties included congressional relations work on the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. Current staff duties at the Committee include the Water Resources Development Act, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research and development program, General Services Administration Public Buildings Service, international environmental issues, and the Economic Development Administration. Mr. Delich received his B.A. in political science from the Arizona State University in 1990.
HOW TO MAKE INNOVATION PART OF THE PROCESS
Staff for Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
I will lay out in broad terms the annual process by which public buildings in the General Services Administration's (GSA) inventory become authorized, appropriated, and eventually funded and carried out.
Each year, soon after the President submits his budget proposal to Congress, the Public Works Committees, which consist of the U.S. House of Representatives' Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, receive the building plan for the coming fiscal year from the Public Buildings Service (PBS) of the GSA.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator John Chafee, along with the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator John Warner, and the House committees enjoy the authorizing jurisdiction over the construction, leasing, and acquisition of federal offices, courts, and special purpose spaces carried out by GSA's Public Building Service. In addition to the annual exercise of approving and sometimes disapproving or modifying GSA public building prospectuses, the committee conducts broad oversight of GSA and PBS policy and reform initiatives, as governed in part by the 1959 Public Buildings Act, Public Law 86-249. Section 7-A of the Public Buildings Act which states:
. . . In order to insure the equitable distribution of public buildings throughout the United States, with due regard for the comparative urgency of need for such buildings, no appropriation shall be made to construct, alter, purchase, or acquire any building to be used as a public building which involves total expenditure in excess of $1.5 million, unless such activity has been approved by resolutions adopted in the Public Works Committees of the House and Senate. . .
An approved resolution or authorization is also required for any lease proposal that will exceed an average annual rental of $1.5 million. Section 7-A continues by establishing the approval process which requires the GSA to submit a prospectus to Congress, including the necessary project description, location, cost, housing capacity, and economic analyses.
Upon receipt of the prospectuses, committee staff begin to review the proposals before presenting them to the committee for a vote. The committee staff meet amongst themselves to discuss the various aspects of what was sent. The staff work almost on a daily basis with Commissioner Kenneth Kimbrough of GSA and his staff to try to meet the facility needs of federal employees in the most cost-effective fashion possible. By and large, GSA does a good job of analyzing what is necessary and what is not, what is cost-effective and what is not. For FY 1996, the Clinton administration through GSA sent up new construction prospectuses for 33 projects, totaling about $1 billion. As has been common, the list includes a wide variety of projects, consisting of courthouses, border stations, general office buildings, government laboratories, and computer centers. Even though these projects are categorized as “construction,” the funding requests are not all for bricks and mortar. In many cases, the projects advance only to the site acquisition, site preparation, or design phase. The request is for the funding of this phase only, sort of a down payment with the hope of returning to Congress for additional, separate authorizations in future years.
The Environment and Public Works Committee staff analyze the proposals based on certain criteria before presenting them to the committee for a vote. First, the proposed building must be necessary to insure the life, safety and health of tenants. The prospectuses must achieve a high priority ranking based on the urgency of need and positive return on investment criteria. The requesters must have fully utilized opportunities for cost savings, working with the Office of Management and Budget and other agencies to identify no-cost and low-cost sites, such as those made available in the Base Realignment and Closure process.
The projects must comport with benchmarks similar to those established in the time-out review process recently engaged in by the head of GSA, Administrator Roger Johnson. In the fall of 1993 Johnson halted GSA expenditures in order to review designs for savings. In the process he developed a criteria for savings for ongoing projects. The goal is to design construction to fix an agency's need, looking forward to the future for construction and for leasing. The criteria include avoiding expensive, short-term, hold-over situations, due to being unprepared for lease expirations.
This process of evaluation is complicated when politics come in to play. For example, in recent years federal buildings and construction have received increased media and public scrutiny. As a result of budget woes and a broadly-held perception that a large amount of unoccupied office space exists, scattered throughout many of our larger cities, Congress has re-examined
expenditures in public building. The most dramatic and recent example of this was in March when the Senate rescinded more than $1 billion in unobligated or unspent appropriations from previous years. All monies unobligated or unspent by GSA were put on ice. After conferencing with the House, that rescission or cut number was reduced to $580 million and sent to the President as part of a $16.4 billion package of cuts, with the net cuts actually around $10 billion. Another example of political obstacles is the FY 1996 Budget Resolution. The budget aims to balance the annual deficit by the year 2002. Included in the bill is a provision to reduce seven-year public building construction outlays by 25 percent. Our committee, more than in years past, has been thrown a curve ball in a sense. We've got limited amounts of resources to deal with. It will be difficult to meet the public building needs as presented by GSA with less money and also more difficult to carry out operations. Some projects already approved might be affected since approval is sometimes phased so that later appropriations to finish the project have to compete with new projects.
The FY 1996 package that GSA sent up to us in February is still pending, as are a number of hold-overs from FY 1994, both leases and new construction. I can't say what the prospects for all of those prospectuses are. My guess is that the committee will move to approve the leases and new construction prospectuses that are of greatest need soon, certainly by the end of the year.
Just before the July recess for Congress, Senator Max Baucus from Montana submitted a bill to improve the approval and execution process. This reform bill has some similarities to the bill introduced and considered by senators Metzenbaum, Simpson, and Boxer last year. The bill will require GSA to submit biennially. For new project proposals, the funding will be requested in the first year of the project, in the following years, the consistency of the funding request will be evaluated. The bill also proposes creating a design guide for courthouse construction administered by GSA, not by the courts.
The path that funding follows is not a smooth one, but it is based on logical criteria. However, that logical process can be derailed by the political climate in which it takes place. The current climate of budget restrictions and public scrutiny, makes it even more difficult than usual for innovation to be part of the public funding for design and construction.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Henry Kelly is Assistant Director for Technology, Office of Science and Technology Policy. Dr. Kelly has been involved in research on the theory and application of light scattering techniques, photovoltaic and other solar energy equipment, energy conservation technologies, international relations, and technology and structural economic change. Formerly with the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, he has produced publications on federal statistics, textiles and apparel, information technology, technology and education, energy efficiency technology, construction, renewable energy, strategic arms control, nuclear effects, and quantum electrodynamics. Dr. Kelly is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society. Dr. Kelly received his B.S. in 1967 from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in physics in 1972 from Harvard University.
HOW TO MAKE INNOVATION PART OF THE PROCESS
Office of Science and Technology Policy
I will address the Clinton administration's approach to technology for the construction industry. The administration began with the objective of finding ways to improve how research is managed broadly throughout the federal enterprise. The federal government annually funds about $72 billion worth of research and development (R&D). Numerous proposals have been made about how to restructure priorities at the end of the Cold War, and many proposals for institutional innovation have been developed. Instead of reorganizing, the administration elected to try to find better ways of managing research facilities and enterprises in place. In effect, the administration set up virtual research teams through the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). This new enterprise is parallel to the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council.
As a part of its charge, the NSTC identified places where research focus was needed. Interestingly enough, the construction industry showed up very high in this analysis. In fact, of the seven formal budget cross-cuts the administration chose to conduct in R&D this year, two relate directly to innovation in constructed facilities. One is buildings and construction, under the leadership of Dr. Richard Wright, Director of the Building Fire and Research Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The other is construction for heavy civil engineering, which deals with highways, bridges, and the like, under Tom Pasko, Director of the Office of Advanced Research at the Federal Highway Administration.
One of the reasons that these areas were chosen as focus areas is that the construction industry is not only fragmented as an industry, but its treatment within the federal government is very highly fragmented. We have been working very closely with business groups to try to find ways to focus what is being done. Harvey Bernstein and the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF) have played a very instrumental role in this.
The construction industry really is a huge enterprise. It employs many people, it affects an enormous range of economic activities, and it has a large impact on the environment. That was why it first attracted the administration's attention. There were also some very good road maps of research trying to find a home in different agencies that we were able to build upon.
The impact of buildings on the environment is very large, and we are under a great deal of pressure in all environmental regulations to do cost-benefit analysis. Whenever this is done, research investment turns out to be at the very top of the list or the bottom of the list in terms of dollars spent per pound of crud removed from the environment. The impact of construction technology is high in most of the key environmental areas. It has an enormous indirect effect on both global climate change and on urban air emissions, due to the fact that construction is one of the biggest consumers of electric power in the country.
The problem is that the industry itself is not well organized to do research. A lot of their research is done by the suppliers to the industry, rather than the industry itself. We have been working on building a consortium of suppliers, assemblers, and federal agencies. A major challenge faced in trying to build a research consortium in the federal government is finding a good way to combine the mission-oriented research objectives of different agencies with research priorities worked out with industry. That turned out to be a rather tricky goal. But after lengthy conversations with the industry and with the different agencies, we were able to develop a set of clear, agreed upon objectives. We think it is entirely appropriate for the government working with industry to pick research objectives—to come up with a vision of the kinds of improvements that can be accomplished and then leave it to the engineers to figure out how to accomplish them. It is appropriate for the political process to understand what the objective should be, but clearly politicians should not be doing the engineering.
One part of this vision is that if a research team aims to reach a set of targets simultaneously, the targets can become an engineering specification. These can be used to come up with a very taut set of priorities. It also helps each one of the agencies understand where its research helps in solving the combined problem.
Again, through extensive conversations with both the agencies and the businesses affected, we have developed a number of principles on how we want to operate. We are acutely aware that research is not enough in and of itself. You have to create a climate that is friendly to research. To that end, we have been working with a lot of the regulations. Of course, there are state and local regulations as well as federal regulations affecting the construction industry. We have programs for streamlining what we are doing with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), wetlands, and other permitting processes. We also have to try to find a way to have the federal government serve as a facilitator in helping states and
localities develop regulatory approaches that streamline the adoption of innovation.
Supported research projects are focused around specific goals. These are road maps developed with the business community. Given clear goals, the universities, businesses, and government program managers can take this vision and figure out who should be putting money in and in what area.
The whole direction of manufacturing has been toward finding ways of getting high productivity in small batch production quantities. That is exactly what the construction industry needs to do. Mass production does not work in construction. Having more or less missed the first two waves of the industrial revolution, it is entirely possible construction will be the leader on the next wave.
The administration's interagency budget request for construction technology is $169 million, up 20 percent from 1995. The combined effort of several agencies is essential. But moving to an integrated program is never easy. Each agency has its own comparative advantages. Each agency must adjust its priorities to reflect new research priorities. The agencies have moved rather dramatically, already lining up what they are doing with these objectives. The enthusiasm of the agencies has been gratifying. One advantage of having the interagency NSTC process is that the industry has a very clear place to go, a one-stop shop. This is not a flawless process, but it shows that we have initiated a process that works. Effective communication channels with the industries involved have been developed, and some good research projects have been started. The agencies are enthusiastic.
That is the good news. The bad news is that much of this is about to be eliminated by congressional budget cuts. This is not a trivial threat. The Department of Energy programs were a key part of the buildings work. Their budgets have been severely attacked. In the case of NIST, there is a serious proposal for complete elimination of the Advanced Technology Program (ATP). There are bills to shut down the Department of Commerce. A bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives directs us to sell NIST facilities. The ATP, which supports a lot of the advanced materials work including a focus area in advanced materials for construction, would be eliminated.
What we are facing is not a mid-course correction, but elimination of key programs. The federal agencies are under a lot of pressure, and rightly so, to convince people that the priorities they are setting be based on risk-benefit analysis and cost-benefit analysis. But, I have to mention that essentially everybody in government who is in a position to do this kind of analysis is also under attack. The Energy Information Administration, the Economic Research Service, and Department of Agriculture are being cut in half. The Office of Technology Assessment has been eliminated. The Bureau of Economic Analysis may be moved, although we do not yet know where. Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences in the National Science Foundation is under heavy assault
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Kenneth R. Kimbrough is Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service for the General Services Administration (GSA). Before joining GSA in July 1993, Mr. Kimbrough was general manager for real estate for Illinois Bell Telephone Company in Chicago. He was responsible for development, design and construction, repair and alterations, and operations of 550 facilities comprising 14 million sq ft. He is a member of the National Association of Corporate Real Estate Executives, the Civil Engineering Research Foundation, and the Industrial Development Resources Council. Mr. Kimbrough has recently completed the program to become a Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago. Mr. Kimbrough received his B.S. in industrial engineering from Oklahoma State and M.B.S. in finance from the University of Rochester.
HOW TO MAKE INNOVATION PART OF THE PROCESS
Kenneth R. Kimbrough
General Services Administration
I will focus on three issues related to innovation. Then I will briefly discuss the General Services Administration's courthouse construction program. The first innovation issue I'll focus on is security in building design. That is certainly foremost in importance, and it 's on our minds these days. Second is partnering and how the General Services Administration (GSA) is using partnering with the private sector. Third is the innovative technology that's being used today at GSA.
In the area of security, the President called for Attorney General Janet Reno to head an emergency task force comprised of the Department of Justice, led by the U.S. marshals, participated in by GSA and others to address the issue of security in all federal buildings in the United States. There are several components to the issue of security in federal buildings: one is to protect staff, employees, federal agency employees, and visitors, of course. Another component is to have safeguards against criminal activities that might take place in the normal course of events. A third is to protect people and facilities during times of civil disobedience and emergency situations.
The GSA has a police force called the Federal Protective Service (FPS). Besides being the Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, I am also head of the GSA police force. In the 1960s when there was a lot of civil disobedience and acting out against the federal infrastructure, it was largely directed at federal buildings. GSA has the FPS to protect federal buildings against civil disobedience, as well as for making arrests and law enforcement for those buildings. Those buildings are federal property and, as such, there is local jurisdiction only when there is a crime, such as murder. In day-to-day crime, such as purse robbery, the local police do not accept jurisdiction over federal buildings. Those types of crimes have to be followed up on by the federal police.
The President's task force will probably focus on three areas. The first will be the physical security of the building. What should be done for facilities in terms of their physical structures? After the 1987 Beirut incident, we realized that the only thing our embassies could do effectively for security was to create a great distance between the physical structure itself and its closest point of access. That's impractical, because most federal buildings, by and large, have to have visitors and people coming to them. You cannot create a great distance between the building itself and the access to the public. Understandably, this has driven the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue. A bomb the size of the one in Oklahoma City would have certainly greatly damaged the White House, if it had been placed on Pennsylvania Avenue. There is something impractical about constructing a building strong enough, hard enough, far enough away to be secure from such an event. It would be a bunker and it certainly would not be practical.
Additionally, the report has to focus on intelligence. I was asked, “What would we do to prevent another Oklahoma?” The answer is, “Nothing. You cannot prevent a bombing such as Oklahoma.” A great deal of emphasis out of this task force will probably be focused on intelligence gathering and sharing of information about who is a threat, where is the threat, and what is the threat. With that kind of information, we would know what to do in terms of physical response to such an incident.
We will, in fact, convene a blue ribbon panel on building failure, blast mitigation and physical security so that we can start to understand, “What are the prudent things for us to do?” There are types of structures that are more blast-resistant than others. The building type in Oklahoma City was probably the most vulnerable for that kind of espionage or sabotage. A steel structure would tend to be a little more flexible, and it would not collapse like that. There are things that can be done. We need to understand what those are and what would be prudent for us to do in the future.
In addition to external threats, we have to be concerned about threats of nature, such as earthquakes. As an example, there is a beautiful beaux arts building in downtown San Francisco known as the U.S. Court of Appeals (Figure 1). This building withstood two earthquakes, in 1906 and 1989, but not without significant damage. Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill worked with us to evaluate a process to protect this building against future earthquakes. They came up with the friction pendulum system. The building was jacked up, the columns were severed at the foundation, and a concave, bowl-shaped figure with a post resting on it was inserted as shown in Figure 2. The idea is that in an earthquake the building would ride up and around on that bowl, kind of like a pendulum, and it would absorb a lot of the rocking motion, allowing the building to basically isolate itself from that. This has been tried elsewhere, but it is the first time in the United States. This is also the largest application of this concept in the world. That project is currently underway and probably nearing completion.
Regarding innovation, I also wanted to discuss partnering. GSA is using partnering, and it has been tremendously successful for us in claims litigation. I don't want to say partnering has resulted in eliminating claims at the end of a project, but to the extent that we've used it, our record has come down from almost 100 percent litigation at the end of a project to virtually none. It has been so successful that we now require partnering on all projects over $10 million in cost.
I came back from Atlanta this week where I attended a partnering session that was being conducted there with the Architect/Engineering (A/E) firm, GSA, and the clients that will occupy the Atlanta federal office building. One of the issues discussed, as an example, was the degree of choice that tenants would have about their space: the carpets, the color, the fabric, the material, the furniture, the color palette, and all of those things about which tenants like to have a choice. However, in a multiple-tenanted building, we had to decide how much choice to allow tenants a sense of ownership, but not get into conflicts between tenants. We decided that tenants needed to at least agree on full-floor color palettes. So even if there are multiple agencies, if they are on one floor, they should agree on a palette. Hopefully, we can get them to agree on a furniture system as well.
That partnering session allowed us to have a dialogue with the A/E firm, which was ready to extract from us our fit and finish requirements; the customer, who wanted to have maximum choice; and our own employees, who wanted to be responsive and responsible for that issue.
The last topic related to innovation I want to discuss is technology. There are four areas where we are in our neophyte stage. When I arrived at GSA, computer-aided design and drafting/computer aided facility management (CADD/CAFM) was being used, but in isolated pockets. It was used in the regions, if the regions liked it, or if they felt like it, or if there was somebody there that was interested in it. Otherwise, it was not being used. However, in a program the size of GSA's, unless you have an integrated, consistent layering plan that incorporates an understanding of the concept of how we all share and use information, you run the danger of having probably 20 different systems that don't talk to each other and don't really develop as a total system.
We established a CADD panel involving representatives from across the regions to agree on a technology, a format, an architecture, a layering, all of the things that are required as the foundation for a government program. We were also able to look out from our own desk and understand that the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs were also looking at this issue. To my knowledge, we have all gravitated towards the same basis for developing this concept, so that we don't have these big differences within the government. We haven't completed it, but it is being developed.
The Geographical Information System (GIS) did not exist before I arrived. The government has tremendous amounts of data. However, we could never get access to it. I would ask the computer staff for information. Their response would be, “We have to write a program to get that information and in two weeks we'll have an analysis.” You would read the analysis and say, “But could you relate another variable?” The staff would say, “Another program, three more weeks, and we'll relate these variables.”
We figured out a way to develop an overlay with our data base and we're migrating off the current system with some state-of-the-art products. An executive information system we're calling GAMUS, that will overlay on the GIS, reaches into the information pool, draws the information up, graphically displays this in a way that allows us to relate several variables at once on a graph, on a map, or in another way that allows us to understand and use that information.
One last topic that I would like to address is the courthouse construction program, since the courthouse construction projects do dominate the GSA's billion-dollar construction and acquisition budget. Close to $700 or $800 million out of the billion dollars is geared for new courts. There was a wave of courthouses built in the early 1930s and 1940s, and there was a long period in our history where we quietly enjoyed that product. We are now at a second wave of construction.
Behind this wave of new construction are several factors, not the least of which are crimes which did not exist 10 or 15 years ago or were not federal crimes, like carjacking. A lot of narcotics crimes are now federal crimes. Crimes that are interstate are now tried in federal courts. This increase of crimes that now require federal jurisdiction has created a tremendous need for additional courtrooms and, consequently, courthouses. We have literally painted ourselves into a corner on courthouse construction. Since this was such a dominant issue in our budget, I took it as a personal charge to try to understand what was behind it and what was pushing it, what was real and what was not.
I have found that the courthouses that were built in the 1930s and 1940s were tremendous examples of architecture. Most of them, by and large, are elegant buildings. Mostly they are built of stone. They are found on the square or in the municipal center of town. They portray the dignity of the United States government in local communities. They are in essence the icon, they are symbolically the federal government. However, we did not anticipate the growth of crime and the need for ancillary or additional courtrooms. What we find is that the current requirement doubles or triples the courtroom requirement. So now you have a building that is not capable of expansion or, in some cases, there is no room on either side, so there is no place for an annex.
If we found a parcel that was available nearby and built an annex on it, you have the added problem of trying to administer a court program that is
bifurcated. If you talk to the chief judges and the clerks, the people responsible for the judiciary process, they tell you it becomes a nightmare to move judges, juries, evidence, defendants, and supporting materials and track it between two locations and move it back and forth. You might imagine a situation where you had the evidence locker in one building and you were trying a narcotics case in another building. If you had to move your 10 kilos of cocaine, or whatever, two blocks away, there are some logistics issues that become almost insurmountable.
Consequently, the judges in the administrative office of the court have favored construction of new courthouses that collectively house everything in one location. In many cases, this has caused us to abandon the original facility. A large amount of the cost in this wave of construction is a result of our having to walk away from the original investment, because we have no way to expand the buildings. It is a big problem. We have not found a way technically to resolve this. In some cases we have been very clever in creating annexes, or we were able to build additional courtrooms in the existing facilities, but those wind up being the exceptions. In most cases, we need to build new court facilities that totally replace the original facility.
Now, just so that we do not replicate this problem 30 years from now, we've built into our process something that says, “Build for the current 10-year requirement,” as we can see it for 10 years out, “but plan for the 30-year requirement.” We, in fact in most cases, will acquire a parcel large enough for the foreseeable 30-year requirement, so that we don't find ourselves 30 years from now having to walk away from this investment and then replicate it all over again. It may be wishful thinking that it will work that way, but at least we are thinking ahead. As we acquire the parcels that are supporting the current building requirements, we are buying enough land to support an annex or an additional building, so that it can be housed on the site and in one place, assuming additional growth at some point in the future.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Edith B. Page is Manager of Infrastructure and Transportation for the Bechtel Corporation with responsibility for both domestic and international markets in these areas. She also works closely with United Infrastructure Company, Bechtel's joint venture with Kiewit Company for public and private ventures in infrastructure and is on Bechtel's Automated Highway System team. Prior to joining Bechtel, Ms. Page was a senior associate and director of transportation projects at the congressional Office of Technology Assessment. Ms. Page serves on the Coordinating Council of ITS America and as a division council member of the Transportation Research Board and was a member of transportation advisory committees for the state of Nevada and Vanderbilt University. Ms. Page holds degrees from Oberlin College and Columbia University.
HOW TO MAKE INNOVATION PART OF THE PROCESS
Edith B. Page
It is appropriate to address how to make innovation part of the process. But that certainly is the hard question. It is easier to identify the barriers than it is to figure out what to do about them.
Let me briefly establish some institutional and political context for my remarks, which will focus on federal decision making for its constructed facilities. In many ways, innovation and the federal process are oxymorons, although many decision makers do recognize the need for innovation. However, engineering, construction, and the federal government procedures are all directed toward the goal of developing facilities reliably, safely, and at a low cost—in other words, as technically and financially risk-free as possible. It is not surprising that this is so. In many ways those are goals that one would want a responsible government to pursue. In addition, the personal and political costs of failure in the public sector are very, very high, as they are in the private sector. Those perceived to have responsibility lose their jobs in either case.
But in the public sector there are other, much more highly visible, penalties that accrue to a manager or a decision maker who is thought to be responsible for some kind of failure or cost over-run. This is especially true if a technology or a technique is not standardized or has not been used over a long period of time, or if one takes the plunge and uses an innovation in a constructed facility and it doesn't work quite the way it was planned to work. It is not an advantage for one's career to have that happen. Anyone who has lived through a lawsuit, a lengthy retrofit process, justifying the costs of those, or the painful and withering experience of a congressional hearing on, “Why did this project cost so much or take so long?” can give personal witness to how much easier it is not to risk using an emerging technology with a value still untested over time. It is preferable to rely on broadly accepted technologies and processes and low-cost bids.
Now contrast that with developing and implementing innovation. For the innovator, and in most respects the implementors as well, these are inherently risky processes. First attempts to use new equipment or methods are often failures, or at least partial failures. Innovators, by definition, have to be willing to take risks, because they know in their souls that there is a different, better way to do something.
Innovation and the Construction Industry
The construction industry is not known for its readiness to innovate and to change. Admittedly, Bechtel cannot claim to be a complete exception, but we've done our best to organize the company so that it is accepting and receptive of and to the innovations that our research and development (R&D) section provides for the operators who are out managing projects. The company is organized into multiple business sectors: power, petroleum, mining, civil, and so on. Buildings, hydro-facilities, transportation, and so on, are all in the civil section. Each one of these sections is focused on projects in that sector. Whether it is a building project in Hong Kong, a hydro-project in Oregon, or an airport in Las Vegas, the common core for each of these is engineering and construction.
Bechtel is organized around a firm commitment to utilizing technologies to provide a market edge. For us, technologies serve as a market differentiator. The company has a matrix management structure and off-project, functional managers at major offices are responsible for matching technical staff, knowledge, and expertise with project needs. We do have a separate, identifiable R&D section that is not divided along any of the above matrix lines; it includes a construction technologies group, an advanced systems section and an automation systems group, etc. The function of our R&D group is to think about innovations and, indirectly, how to match them to direct project needs. It is the role of the functional managers to make those connections, when appropriate.
In the late 1980s, when I was still at the Office of Technology Assessment, I codirected a study of materials and technologies for construction. For that project we did a scan of U.S. and foreign construction firms to determine their level of spending on research and development. Bechtel was one of the only American companies that we found had retained a core technology R&D group. A lot of the other major companies responded to our inquiries by saying, “Well, we are sorry that we had to do it, but in the severe recession that the construction industry suffered in the 1980s, R&D was eliminated.” Most had had a research and development section, but dropped it, and in that sense Bechtel appears now to be atypical. I know there are R&D functions in Fluor and other major companies, but to my knowledge, other companies still do not have a separate group that functions quite the way Bechtel's does.
Typical or not, in Bechtel, there is the framework to match innovation with need. Project managers are eager for new technologies and seek them out. They also look for new processes. They are receptive to innovation and want to use it on their projects, when appropriate.
In a few cases, we have had customers demand innovation. In one case, we had to connect a great many remote stations for design engineering. The project site was in the desert in Saudi Arabia, and the company at issue, our client, had offices in Europe and Kansas. Our engineers were both on-site in Saudi Arabia and in San Francisco. The client wanted concurrent engineering to be possible because the old way of sending drawings back and forth by courier still took 5 to 10 days, since the site was so remote. They said of our alternate suggestions, “This just isn't good enough.” When you have a client who says, “This just isn't good enough, we demand that you do it concurrently,” the best option is to say, “Yes.” So we did. We hustled, and now we have that capability to use for other projects.
Is this Bechtel context applicable to the federal government? Admittedly there is the issue of scale. Bechtel is a company of 17,000 non-manual employees, with top managers experienced in the core business. This may be quite different from the government, where some high officials come in as political appointees and hold office temporarily, without relevant previous experience. And the company does not compare at all to the much greater size and fragmentation into separately operating agencies of the federal framework. Nonetheless, I do have two specific suggestions which do not seem to relate to the issue of scale, for moving innovation and for integrating it into the public sector.
The first is partnering with private sector innovators at a variety of working levels, including decision makers, implementors, and technical experts. I am talking about partnering in the sense of a professional partnering: “We have a common problem. Let's try to solve it together.” I mean really working together and trying to resolve issues as a team, focused on the same problem, rather than as manager and contractor.
The second is to harness the tremendous communications and collaborative power offered by today's electronic communications. Worldwide Web and Internet offer opportunities to share who, what, why (or why not, in some cases a very important factor), and where about innovations in a low-cost manner. Many already have access to the Internet, and establishing a bulletin board or clearing house for innovation could grow into an electronic federal innovation information clearing house. Such a clearing house could provide a knowledge inventory, identify innovators, and provide global access to all interested parties, both public and private. There are ways to do this and to protect proprietary information to the degree possible on such a network. It is one very good
method of connecting innovators and people with common problems. It is another form of partnering, an electronic form, that can provide an easy flow of technical information between public and private sectors. Such a resource should permit information about technologies and processes to be widely available to those who need it. It also would facilitate collaboration and cooperation between innovators and implementers when a good fit appears. An interagency working group, with private sector participation as appropriate, would be one way to make this a reality.
On behalf of Bechtel, let me say we are eager to be part of the solution. We welcome the chance to work with you, to develop better ways to make innovation part of the process.
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