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May 1, 2003 3:56 PM CDT

Military Construction Just Ain't What it Used to Be


For those of you that work on military construction projects, you should be aware that facility criteria changes and cost saving measures recently implemented by the Department of Defense (DoD) may mean that a once reliable source of work could be a little less so in the future. MCAA recently learned of these policy changes when one of our members was forced to withdraw their bid on an Army project for a new barracks because the military's new criteria made the design-build bid using masonry cost-prohibitive. MCAA has been delving into this issue and is working with others in the industry to revise the military's engineering approach to new construction. Here's what we've learned so far:

In May of 1996, Congress passed a law (PL 104-113) that requires all Federal agencies to use performance-based or design-specific technical standards that are developed or adapted by voluntary consensus standards bodies for their procurements. Then, in June of 2000, Major General Milton Hunter, at that time the Deputy Commanding General for Military Programs, issued an Engineering Circular that eliminated the traditional Type I and II construction to Type V construction; this permits the use of any construction material allowed by the Uniform Building Code (UBC), including wood.

In justifying this new policy, the Army claims that advances in fire protection now make prudent the selection of the construction type to be based on the most economical system for a given project within the limits of the UBC. The cost problems were mainly attributed to the previous DoD requirement to use UBC Type I and II non-combustible construction.

Adding more salt to our wounds, we're told that a new barracks was recently constructed at Ft. George G. Meade (Maryland) under the new guidelines and the Army is quite pleased with it. The Army intends to issue a report highlighting the cost savings at Ft. Meade, holding it as a prime example of why using conventional construction is the preferred procurement method.

One of the major proponents and, I might add, enforcers, of Type V construction is the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, who happens to be a logistics man, not an engineer. (Therein could lie our biggest problem!) During my discussions with folks at the Pentagon/Army Corps of Engineers about Type V construction, they agree with me ? off the record ? that in a post 9/11 environment, living under various levels of terrorist threats, this construction policy is now outdated, not to mention wrongheaded, and that I'm preaching to the choir. But as military personnel, they tell me they have no ability to change the policy and that Type V construction is safe, given the standoff distance requirements (82 feet/25 meters) contained in DoD's Minimum Antiterrorism Standards.

The DoD Minimum Antiterrorism Standards are part of the Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) which provide planning, design, construction, sustainment, restoration and modernization criteria, and apply to the military departments, defense agencies and DoD field activities. Standoff distances are essentially controlled perimeters of varying degrees that, through testing, the military have found limit the impact of certain blast weights on various types of buildings, in this case military. This is the minimum standard and would not prevent the damage caused by the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11.

More importantly, because of the war in Iraq, our military installations may now be greater targets of terrorist attacks of all kinds. Therefore, it makes no sense whatsoever that our defense personnel should be expected to live and work in facilities constructed out of materials that would not only fail to resist any sort of blast, but make it less likely for them to escape injury or death.

It is now our task to convince the military to look more closely at life cycle costing and long term durability, not to mention the life safety benefits of Type I and II housing. Government officials charged with the judicious use of military dollars should be more cognizant of the benefits of masonry construction, particularly with respect to operations and maintenance costs.

MCAA is in the process of setting up a meeting with the appropriate personnel within the Army Corps of Engineers to make that case. Based on the reactions we've gotten thus far, that will not be easy. But we must do everything that we can to reverse this developing trend and reclaim our share of this institutional market. If we don't make any headway with the Pentagon, you can be sure that we will make every effort to convince those in Congress that it is ill-advised for a country that is now at war to be perceived as being weak on military safety or anti-terror preparedness.

About the Author

Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.


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