Transformation, construction oversight among themes at annual USACE forum

Published Feb. 27, 2014
WIESBADEN, Germany – Prioritizing needs and planning ahead will be crucial for stakeholders and project-delivery teams in Europe and Africa to maximize efficiencies under the new fiscal reality of tighter budgets and funding, officials said at the 2014 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Customer Workshop.

The fourth annual forum brought together top USACE Europe District leaders and their key partners from military agencies around European Command and Africa Command to discuss challenges, strategies and opportunities for refining the way they do business. About 90 people attended the daylong session, which took place Feb. 6 at the Community Activity Center on Clay Kaserne.

The group heard presentations on Europe’s transformation, military construction, operations and maintenance programs, training opportunities, project oversight, installation support, value engineering, the services contract approval system, energy-savings measures and information-technology security items. Attendees engaged in open dialogue aimed at sharpening procedures, finding solutions, and strengthening relationships in construction and project delivery.

“The main objective of the workshop is to collectively discuss how we may better serve and deliver our projects and services to our customers and partners,” said Deputy District Engineer Mark Roncoli. “It’s important to bring everyone together like this to facilitate improved communications by providing a forum to discuss best practices and lessons learned across our facility engineering communities.”

Participating agencies included Installation Management Command-Europe, U.S. Army Europe, 5th Signal Command, AFRICOM, the Defense Logistics Agency, Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe, Europe Regional Medical Command, the Missile Defense Agency and Naval Facilities Engineering Command. There were also representatives from Directorate of Public Works offices across Germany, Italy and Belgium.

Europe District set up the workshop in 2011 to address shared concerns, improve coordination, and create a better understanding of the joint efforts between clients and USACE project-delivery teams. It’s an opportunity to exchange experiences and ideas with project managers and district leaders.

Meeting organizers tweaked the format this year, allowing senior officials from the customer side to lead discussions on select topics.

Sean McDonald, IMCOM-Europe’s chief of construction, spoke about the region’s transformation strategy and need to recapitalize existing facilities as the trend toward a smaller troop presence continues on the continent. USAREUR constitutes just 5 percent of “Big Army” right now, he added.

“We’re looking at how we can consolidate, divest and invest in our facilities,” he said. “We’re getting smaller with the forces that exist in Europe. Excess facilities cost money, so we’re looking to get rid of them. When you do that, you reduce operating and utility costs.”

In 2006, about 54,000 Soldiers were stationed in Europe, according to McDonald. By 2016, only 30,000 are projected to remain, along with roughly 30,000 airmen. The number of Army garrisons has dwindled from 22 to seven in the past eight years.

The district is managing Aegis Ashore construction in Romania – with a Poland site planned later this decade – as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach to ballistic missile defense. But McDonald said the MILCON program has slowed significantly in Western Europe, excluding the Rhine Ordnance Barracks Medical Center replacement project and effort to refurbish or build schools at enduring locations.

As funds become available toward the end of each fiscal year, advance planning will be key in gaining approval for projects and requirements, officials said.

“Transformation and the search for efficiencies will continue and be a way of life over here,” McDonald said.

Assistant Deputy District Engineer Lalit Wadhwa touched on a range of concerns raised by customers in prior workshops, from defining clear scope and budgets to construction oversight consistency and planning for risks. He urged the parties to utilize all lines of communication in the district and demand accountability from project managers.

“What can we do better? That’s the main thing here,” he said. “It’s important to maintain dialogue and talk about solutions. We empower everyone to solve issues at the lowest level on our project-delivery teams.”

Many attendees praised the workshop as productive and valuable. Some said the discussions also illustrate the district’s desire to be transparent with stakeholders.

“In this business, it’s all about relationships and communication. You can only develop a relationship so far over the phone and through a video-teleconferencing system,” said Lt. Col. James Lockridge, command engineer of Special Operations Command Africa, who took part for the first time. “It’s fantastic to get together in person to shake someone’s hand, to look them in the face, to introduce yourself in person for the first time. To me, that pays off big dividends later on.

“When I get on the phone again with some of the people I shook hands with today … our relationship is now different. It’s more personal.”

Col. Garrett Cottrell, command engineer for Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara and another first-time participant, said he was interested in the district’s construction-oversight measures. The Stuttgart-based task force has an active construction program in North Africa and Germany that supports various host nations as they upgrade their infrastructure to meet mission requirements.

But there are significant challenges, such as distance to actual work sites and regional security issues, the colonel said.

“Because of those concerns, we wanted to try to reinforce the need for more active observation of the construction process,” he added.

Overall, the USACE Customer Workshop offers a good chance to swap lessons learned and future priorities, Cottrell said.

“The benefit is it allows us to have a forum to discuss our concerns,” he said. “We have a better understanding of all the stakeholders involved. Wherever our concerns, I think there will be an active effort to address that. … There are limited resources now – be it time, personnel or money – so we have to try to be more efficient and more effective in our execution. I believe that’s one of the takeaways from this forum.”

Roncoli says the annual sessions are mutually beneficial as the sides collaborate on current and future projects.

“Each year, our customer workshop has progressively matured by addressing topics in greater depth and complexity,” he added. “This is the first year where our customers made many of the plenary presentations. I expect that this will help drive better project delivery and ultimately better customer satisfaction with our service.”