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House Passes Design Build Legislation; Eases Bidding Process

By Jessica Salmoiraghi, Director, Federal Relations

    “Democrats and Republicans unite to pass AIA led legislation.”

    That’s not a headline often seen these days, but in the case of how the government procures architectural services, a major ongoing grassroots effort by AIA members resulted in a bipartisan solution that will open doors for architects and lead to better designed federal buildings.

    On Wednesday night, the House voted unanimously to support legislation, the Design-Build Efficiency and Jobs Act, that will make it fairer for design firms to compete for federal projects. The AIA was able to get the proposal inserted into the larger, must-pass Defense Authorization bill approved by the House Thursday. This raises the chances that the proposal will make its way to the President’s desk, marking an important improvement to how the feds run design-build competitions.

    The issue first came to light over two years ago. In federal design-build, teams present their qualifications in the first round. Then agencies choose finalists to prepare detailed – and often pricey - design specs. As the economy struggled and competition grew fiercer, teams were finding that once they made it to the final round, they were forced to go up against as many as 10, 15, or more competing teams.

    As AIA President Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, testified on Capitol Hill last May, “When teams decide whether to compete for a design-build project, they weigh the costs of competing against the odds of winning. Agencies have taken advantage of their purchasing power during the recession to expand the number of short- listed teams. In the past, agencies would typically shortlist three teams for a design build project. Now, there are reports that some agencies are shortlisting as many as eight-to-10 teams. In these cases, the odds of being selected drop significantly, even as the cost to compete continues to rise.”

    The problem is not limited to just the federal market. As the largest client in the country, the federal government’s practices often find their way into state and local procurement laws, and even the private sector. Pitting more and more firms against each other and forcing them to do large amounts of design work for free is a trend that made it much harder to compete for work - not to mention reducing competition and innovation in design.

    That’s where the AIA came in. Working with its design and construction allies and champions on Capitol Hill, it facilitated introduction last summer of the Design-Build Efficiency and Jobs Act, or H.R. 2750, which limits second-stage finalists to five or fewer teams (there is no limit to the number of who can present their qualifications in the first round). But getting a bill introduced in Congress, and getting it passed in a tense partisan climate, are two separate things. The AIA and its allies embarked on a two-pronged strategy: releasing the power of thousands of members to urge their elected representatives to support the bill, and working on the inside to get it attached to a larger bill to speed its chances of passing.

    That led to this week’s action, when the House voted to include H.R. 2750 in the defense authorization bill. (Why the defense bill? H.R. 2750 covers both military and civilian design and construction; its relationship to military projects made it “germane” to the larger defense bill.)

    There is still a long road ahead. The Senate has to pass its defense bill; then both chambers have to iron out the differences before sending a final version to President Obama. Unrelated defense issues could complicate things. But even in a highly charged partisan environment where bipartisan agreement is rare, the progress of H.R. 2750 shows that architects can bring people together.

    Want to help get this and more pro-architect legislation passed in Congress? Sign up for the Network and be the first to know when critical decisions are made.

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This content is published by the AIA Government and Community Relations Department, 1735 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20006. To contact the AIA’s Government & Community Relations team, send an email to


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