It has been over a decade since the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) changed to accommodate design-build project delivery, an “integrated” approach to construction projects in which the design and construction teams work together from the initial phase to project completion. In the last 10 years, the competitive two-phased design-build selection process pioneered by federal agencies, including the United States Army Corps of Engineers, has been used to bring countless facilities and other capital projects to completion on time and on budget, thus creating savings for the agencies and the taxpayer.

The Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), composed of public- and private-sector owners and design and construction professionals who serve them, invited representatives of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the General Services Administration (GSA) to describe how and why they are increasing their use of design-build. Agency officials spoke at the closing general session of the 2009 Design-Build Conference last November — the end of a busy year for public-sector owners tasked with getting projects off the ground quickly under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA).

Using design-build “integrated project delivery” means that the design team (architects, engineers and landscape architects) and the construction team (the construction company and the electricians, plumbers and other specialty contractors who assist them) work together from the initial response to an owner's solicitation to project completion. Such integrated project delivery is an alternative to the design-bid-build method involving two teams who work separately and sequentially on a facility. Using design-bid-build, a design team first focuses on tasks from programming through construction documents and then a construction team takes over to complete the project.

“At NAVFAC, we do about 75 percent of new construction [using] design-build,” Joseph E. Gott, chief engineer and director of Capital Improvements, told the audience. “The largest reason we select a project for the design-build delivery vehicle is the single point of accountability and responsibility. We have an architect-engineer and a design-build constructor on the same team and have a contract with one company.” Additional attributes commonly associated with design-build are innovation and cost savings. “Through design-build,” he said, “we can get innovative design solutions. We can get an even better mix of additives to our contracts, allowing us to get more projects and more value for our customers.”

In design-build project delivery, integration is not just an abstract concept; it is a concrete reality reflected in the contractual relationship between the design-build team and the owner agency. In fact, design-build is also referred to as “single-source” delivery because even when the architect-engineer team and the construction company are distinct entities, they contract for a design-build project as one team and there is singular responsibility. The “design-builder” can take several forms: a joint venture between designer and contractor, a contractor-led team with the designer in a subcontractor role or a designer-led team with the constructor in a subcontractor role.

Since the 1990s, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has relied exclusively on design-build project delivery. “Design-build shortens the delivery period because it eliminates the procurement phase between the design and the construction phase,” explained Pete Swift, deputy chief, Design and Construction Branch.

Numerous time benefits and costs savings flow from a collaborative relationship between designer and builder. Fewer unforeseen problems arise when designers and builders are on the same team from the beginning. If an electrical outlet is specified in the wrong place or a potential cost-override is detected, team members work together early on to provide solutions. When problems are resolved more quickly, projects stay on schedule. Saving time saves money for everyone. Projects delivered on or before deadline are the norm rather than the exception with the design-build delivery method.

According to Paul M. Parsoneault, construction management team leader, U.S. Army Engineers Military Programs Branch, when Congress approved the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) recommendations, the agency had to respond faster than ever before. “There was no way possible to execute an historically large mission using the traditional delivery system,” he said. “We determined that, in terms of the Army, the default delivery system is design-build. We can deliver more quickly, and we can leverage the innovation of industry to provide us with the most cost-effective solutions to our requirements.”

Jag R. Bhargava, deputy director, U.S. General Services Administration, faced similar time pressures to meet the scheduling requirements of the new Census Bureau Headquarters. With only four years between ground breaking and full occupancy, he remarked, “We [had] to find ways of doing it. The only method I could think of was design-build.” Completed on time, this state-of-the-art workplace not only achieved a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Rating but also won the GSA Design Excellence Award.

When the federal government began issuing design-build contracts, the goal was to capture the numerous benefits of a streamlined approach to design and construction. Over the years, an added benefit has emerged: reduction or elimination of claims.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons foresaw this outcome, Swift noted. “We at the Federal Bureau of Prison have being doing design-build since the FAR regulations changed. Our primary reasons back then were that we would eliminate a lot of the claims we were getting and we had a large work load. Over the years, we have not had a claim on any design-build project we have done and, like Joe [Gott of NAVFAC], our claims department is now defunct.”

About the author

Susan Hines is director of Public Relations and Information for the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA).