John W. Fisher
The purpose of the symposium on federal policies to foster innovation and improvement in constructed facilities was to gain ideas and recommendations from a broad segment of professionals on how to leverage federal spending and serve as a catalyst for innovation. The workshop offered the opportunity to examine technology, government roles, and management approaches as they relate to leveraging federal investment to promote innovation.
Altogether, 59 individuals participated. They included 33 federal representatives from 23 agencies, 19 private sector (domestic) representatives, 2 private sector (foreign) representatives, and 5 academic institution representatives. In the break-out sessions, the participants recommended a number of actions that could be taken to leverage federal capital investment to promote innovation in the U.S. construction industry (see pages 105-109). The workshop participants' recommendations are summarized as follows:
Develop a national policy on research and development and the utilization of technology for global competitiveness. Fragmentation of the construction industry as well as government policy has led to the poor investment record in R&D in the U.S. and the lack of long-term goals. Companies and government alike are hesitant to develop a long-term vision and make the needed investment in new technologies.
Encourage more partnering of government with industry and within agencies. Partnering will likely require changes in government procurement policy. The government as an owner of constructed facilities should encourage innovation and assist with implementation through contract set-asides. Retention of technical expertise in government agencies is essential if innovation is to be implemented. Federal agencies should proactively seek to serve as testbeds for innovative technology.
Support Centers of Excellence that provide a partnership between industry, government, and academia for R&D including basic research and development through commercialization. More agency support is needed for reductions in delivery time, operations and maintenance, waste and pollution, and illness and injury to increase facility comfort and productivity.
Recognize the role of government as an owner of constructed facilities. Funding R&D is the only way to assure innovation leading to performance and economy. Government should be a model for excellence and provide leadership in seeking to improve its facilities as it has the infrastructure resources in the United States and abroad.
Involve the government as a proactive agent for knowledge and technology transfer. Government should develop an attitude of a coach rather than a referee to become a leader in promoting innovation.
Recognize the responsibility of the federal government to be an innovator in construction through its role as a project manager and user of facilities and its responsibility for planning and funding. The federal government can provide vision, share risks, and provide incentives, beginning with R&D through field demonstration and implementation.
Take a more comprehensive approach to federal facility planning, design, construction and use. All aspects of innovation should be explored from technology and methodology to the process.
Develop and implement alternative contracting approaches. The currently used fixed-price contracting is not conducive to innovation. There is a need to encourage diverse approaches, such as design-build, negotiated, or other forms of contracts to provide greater opportunity for innovation and increased performance. Consideration also should be given to the development and use of performance-based specifications as a means of promoting change.
Empower federal managers with risk resources as a mechanism for sharing the risks of innovation and promoting use. The government should ensure that agencies maintain or acquire technical experts to evaluate the potential risks.
From the discussions on leveraging capital investments and making innovation part of the process, the keynote address by Bob Stone, where he talked about freedom, observation, and encouragement, there is a challenge for all the federal agencies to adhere to and respond to. Henry Kelly's comments were striking. In the Office of Science and Technology Policy, there is a great recognition of the inadequacy in the level of investment in research and development (R&D) in this industry, at the very top level of government.
However, the agencies do not seem to be responding to this. It has not gotten across to government to look at government as the owner, instead of dealing with the whole construction industry.
The charge to this conference was to look at the $50 billion per year the federal government expends, as an owner. If we just look at the government as an owner, what role should government take in fostering innovation? If we were talking of 1 or 2 percent of the total expenditures for construction being invested in R&D, that is a vast sum of money compared to what is being invested today. The necessity of freedom for innovation that was suggested by Bob Stone is worth listening to as is the recognition at the very highest level of government that there is an inadequate investment in R&D.
An advocate is needed in each of these agencies to increase investment in R&D. Apparently we are missing substantial numbers of advocates in every branch of the government to meet these directives. In fact, I heard Secretary Federico Pena indicate that in the Department of Transportation he would like to see innovation and technology put into place. It does not seem to be happening. There seems to be a large disconnect here.
We have talked of using design-build contracts in federal projects as a possible way to introduce innovation. Perhaps we also should try to have the federal government take a more proactive look at the issue of performance-based specifications. If performance-based specifications were introduced, industry would have to respond, probably with more R&D themselves, because they would be held accountable. If the responsibility for producing was clear, industry would have the incentive to innovate, which they do not have today. We certainly have very large government projects that are being realized: we heard from the Department of Defense that they are spending $12 billion a year. We ought to have ways of introducing innovation and fostering it with those projects.
There are a host of issues here that need to be dealt with. To achieve the implementation of innovation, we must identify and carry out the appropriate R&D. This also will require multidisciplinary efforts, with more cooperation and leveraging between the industry, government, and universities.
A national policy statement might be a vehicle for the construction industry to convey this vision. There is vision missing in what we communicate to Capitol Hill. We need to find a way to link together the construction industry and the role it plays in our environment. As was pointed out by Dr. Fujimori, the Japanese have become greatly aware of the role that the environment plays in energy consumption and in safety. We can easily apply that concept to every single federal agency, transportation to defense, as part of that vision.
In my opening remarks, I point out there is an interwoven nature of innovation—of advancing knowledge, which is technological, and extending practice, which is institutional. It is very difficult to separate those. Whatever the federal agencies do, I would hope that the events taking place in this city
will not result in a cut in the R&D program. I know it is common for R&D to be the first place to be cut, but in the long term, it does the most damage and is costly. We can use the threat of cuts to give us a sense of urgency. We need to convey the message that R&D in construction is the only way we are going to succeed with innovation and provide more cost effective and reliable construction.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Robert Stone is a career civil servant with 25 years of service. He was appointed Project Director of the National Performance Review (NPR) by Vice President Albert Gore in March 1993. He led a team of mostly federal employees in preparing a report to the President on reinventing the federal government. His job now is to ensure implementation of the NPR recommendations to put customers first, cut red tape, empower employees to get results, and cut back to basics. Before coming to the NPR he spent 12 years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Installations. Mr. Stone received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1980 his work as a centralizer and regulator earned him the presidential rank of Meritorious Executive. His later work as a de-centralizer and de-regulator earned him the Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service.