In direct response to concerns expressed by the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) on behalf of its constituents, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has issued a new internal policy that clarifies the appropriate use of one-step design-build procurement and emphasizes that a two-phase selection procedure remains the Corps’ highly preferred method for acquiring design-build services. Unlike the two-phase best value procurement, in which firms submit their qualifications and an agency generates a shortlist of firms to compete based on price and preliminary design work, the single-step process does not limit the competition to a qualified few. Instead, as many as 12 to 15 firms at a time have been competing for single projects through the expensive and time consuming process of submitting price and technical packages to the Corps.

DBIA, the only organization that defines, teaches, and promotes best practices in design-build, does not consider the one-step process a best practice in design-build procurement. Design-build is an integrated approach that delivers design and construction services under one contract with a single point of responsibility. Through its training, certification, "Manual of Practice," and position statements, the institute not only emphasizes the important role qualifications play in the selection of design-build teams, but also cautions owners, like the Corps, that inviting more than three firms to provide proposals places an undue burden on both industry and procurement officials.

Moreover, DBIA points out that the one-step process is unlikely to result in high quality work as procurement officials, in an effort to winnow the field, are more likely to focus on price — rather than best value — when selecting a single winning team from such a large pool. Another significant factor: When owners repeatedly engage in the burdensome one-step process the most experienced and well qualified firms are unlikely to compete for the work.

A recent article on USACE’s one-step procurement in Engineering News-Record underscored this fact, noting, “What is clear is that the added expense of single-step competitions — with some firms saying they've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on proposal expenses alone — is keeping many contractors and designers from competing on single-step jobs altogether.”

After numerous members approached DBIA with complaints about the one-step process, the Institute raised these concerns with USACE. The Corps was receptive and the new guidelines emphasize that the two-phase selection procedure is the only design-build contracting method authorized for civil works and work the Corps performs for other agencies and remains the highly preferred method for military construction projects. The one-step method may still be used on some military construction projects; however, the internal policy places specific conditions on the use of the one-step design-build procurement by the Corps, including approval from Headquarters USACE Chief of Construction.

“DBIA found the Corps to be open to our feedback on best practices in design-build,” said DBIA Executive Director Lisa Washington, CAE. “Ensuring that owners receive the greatest value possible from their procurement strategies is central to DBIA’s mission. DBIA and USACE share a commitment to excellence, innovation and creativity as drivers of quality, value and sustainability. Our work with the Corps on this initiative reflects the fact that these principles are in the best interest of the industry and the nation.”

View the policy statement here.