“Times They Are A-Changin” for federal infrastructure projects

Posted in: Energy, Military, Water

Like Dylan's 1964 “The Times They Are A-Changin” architecture-engineering consulting firms that cater to the federal clients in today’s marketplace will be facing many changes.
Like Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin” architecture-engineering consulting firms that cater to the federal clients in today’s marketplace will be facing many changes.

Architecture and engineering firms must face a significant change if they want to be prepared to help their federal clients. Among the most important changes are an increased emphasis on outsourcing, regulatory changes and public-private partnerships.

When I was a cadet at West Point some 40 years ago, my roommate listened to a lot of Bob Dylan. The song I remember best is, “The Times They Are A-Changin.” And that sentiment is certainly true for architecture-engineering consulting firms that cater to the federal clients in today’s marketplace.

Federal workforce versus workload

The Trump administration implemented a 90-day federal workforce hiring freeze on January 23rd “to reduce the size of the federal government’s workforce through attrition.” The hiring freeze was lifted on April 12th with a directive to federal agencies to make deep personnel cuts in the workforce over the next year.

The administration wants to reduce the mission and influence of some federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Education. However many federal agencies are seeing their workload grow, including the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and Veterans Administration.

How will these agencies accomplish their new larger missions with fewer people? Outsourcing is the logical answer. The scope and structure of this outsourcing is to be determined, but it will behoove the architecture and engineering firms to stay engaged.

Regulatory burden

Along with workforce reductions and increased outsourcing, the Trump administration is also looking to reduce the regulatory burdens to doing business. As part of my work with the American Council of Engineering Companies, I have helped gather information on regulations that could be reduced or eliminated for feedback to Congress.

In addition to making it easier to engage in business, regulatory reform could reduce the cost and complexity of doing business with the federal government. Potentially it could allow many more architecture and engineering firms to enter the federal marketplace, thereby increasing competition. This development also bears watching.

The new future: Public-private partnerships

Finally, the Trump administration has repeatedly emphasized its desire to fund infrastructure improvements through public-private partnerships (P3). P3 are used successfully around the world to fund infrastructure, although their use in the United States is somewhat limited.

There are many challenges to the successful implementation of P3 to fund infrastructure rehabilitation or new infrastructure. To be successful, a P3 must provide the private investor with a return on investment. Additionally, the public entity must release some control over the infrastructure, and this loss of control applies also to Congress.

This process works for a highway project where tolls can provide the funding to repay the private investment. Similarly, a privately funded hydroelectric facility on a federal dam generates electricity (revenue) to repay the facility costs. However, federal agencies currently have very little legal authority to implement P3, so it remains to seen how all this will play out in the next few months and years.

Staying current

I will be attending three excellent conferences where these three trends and their effects will be discussed and hopefully made more understandable. Hope you will join me at one of the following:

  • April 23-26 – ACEC Annual Convention in Washington D.C., three separate panels on April 24 will specifically discuss some of these trends as they apply to DOD engineering organizations, DHS, the Department of Agriculture, as well as other agencies.

If you can’t make the conferences, I’ll be sharing updates throughout 2017.

Miro Kurka, PE, PMP

About the Author

Miro Kurka, PE, PMP, knows water is an incredible resource. “I help resolve issues that prevent us from engineering water infrastructure that would make our citizens safer, wealthier and happier.” A retired US Army officer, he managed the Corps of Engineers’ program in Tulsa, Portland and Afghanistan for 30 years, bridging gaps, overcoming obstacles and tackling large challenges. He loves traveling and meeting people.

Read more posts by Miro Kurka, PE, PMP

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