A few months ago, on the pages of [Masonry Magazine], we reported that the Department of Defense (DoD) had implemented a policy requiring barracks projects be built using more conventional methods of construction, including wood or other materials that conformed to the UBC, thus moving away from more traditional masonry design. Although the policy was required by legislation enacted in 1996, it was justified through cost savings estimated with a ?back of the napkin? life cycle cost analysis done in a vacuum by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps has since substantiated the usefulness and practicality of downgrading their construction methods with the help of the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress.
In a report issued on June 10, the GAO recommended that the Secretary of Defense promote a coordinated, focused effort to determine the feasibility and cost effectiveness of barracks privatization. GAO also recommended that DoD undertake engineering studies to resolve questions about the use of residential construction practices and compliance with antiterrorism force protection requirements. DoD was also told it must issue guidance on maximizing use of existing barracks space while eliminating excess barracks infrastructure in an effort to save additional military construction dollars.
Congress has since given its endorsement to the GAO recommendations, mandating, in the Fiscal Year 2004 Military Construction Appropriations bill, that they be implemented without delay and directing the Secretary of Defense to provide a report to Congress by March of next year detailing actions taken in response to GAO?s recommendations and itemizing any budgetary savings achieved as a result of their implementation.
There are several aspects of this directive that MCAA finds troubling and not simply because many of our members routinely do defense contract work at military installations. First and foremost, we believe this policy to be extremely misguided in today?s military environment. We have forces all over the world ? Bosnia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Liberia, to name a few - and our military personnel are stretched to the limit, with no immediate end in sight. Worse still, the level of potential terrorist threats remains high and is unlikely to change any time soon. Given that, do we really want our soldiers to reside in less durable living quarters which may not withstand terrorist attacks? I think not. As the world?s superpower, our military is held to a higher standard; their barracks facilities and other support structures should be on par with the level of excellence we?ve come to expect of our armed forces. As taxpayers, we also question whether or not the ?standardized? life cycle cost analysis done by the Army Corps of Engineers is adequate, particularly if the military is serious about privatization. If the initial cost estimates to build a new barracks using residential or conventional construction methods are in fact lower, have future maintenance costs been sufficiently examined? What private company would want to sign a long term contract with the military to manage its facilities if the maintenance costs are expected to be significantly higher in 5 or 10 years?
In my view, we at MCAA must do two things to confront this problem head on. First, we need to have an in-depth life cycle cost analysis of our own completed, comparing it to the ?standardized? LCCA done by the Army Corps of Engineers. We should then present our LCCA to the Corps, the Department of Defense and our friends on Capitol Hill and suggest that as they move forward with new construction methods and, ultimately, privatization that they consider a peer review process of the LCCA. It is my understanding that the Texas Masonry Council is working closely with a local architect to put together an extensive LCCA and his work should be done by early September. I expect this will not only be beneficial to our efforts to resolve construction questions within the military, but should prove to be an excellent marketing tool for our industry.
Second, MCAA must continue to work closely with others in industry and the Army Corps of Engineers to initiate a program request for testing of various masonry wall systems. Masonry wall systems should be tested to determine their ability to withstand certain blast loads and resistance to progressive collapse, both of which are factors in DoD?s antiterrorism force protection standards and directly impact construction policy. A testing request was submitted to the Corps in July and I am hopeful that the military can begin the program later this year at their testing facility in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
We at MCAA intend to keep you apprised of further developments in this matter and want to ensure you that we?ll make every effort to ensure that DoD?s construction policy doesn?t adversely impact our traditional market share of contract work.
About the Author
Congressman Cass Ballenger was first elected to Congress in 1986 to represent the people of North Carolina's 10th District. Ballenger works to bring fiscal responsibility to the federal government by helping to eliminate excessive taxation on American families. He is a senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and a member of the House International Relations Committee.