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Should Estimating Be a Core Competency for Federal Building Personnel?

Lisa Cooley, LEED AP, joined RSMeans in 2013 and Gordian in 2014, and is responsible for tailoring the range of RSMeans and Gordian estimating and procurement solutions for federal customers and other key accounts. Ms. Cooley brings years of construction industry experience, first growing up in a family-owned general contracting firm, and then running her own business focused on IDIQ contracting for federal clients that included the U.S. Air Force and General Services Administration. She has built her career around the Job Order Contracting delivery method since 2005, as Director of Strategic Development for Centennial Contractors. Ms. Cooley has served in various leadership roles for many industry groups, such as AGC, IFMA and NASFA. She has her BA in Art and Architectural History from the University of Oklahoma.

Implementation of the Federal Building Personnel Training Act (FBPTA) continues to evolve, with a 2014 update to the defined competencies being supported by ever-broadening course options from a variety of providers.  

One gap in the FBPTA competency map may be cost estimating.  One of the key tenets of FBPTA is the ability to achieve cost savings in the federal building portfolio by better educating those who are managing it. There is perhaps no competency that can help achieve cost savings better than the proactive management of costs made possible by strong cost estimating skills.  

Cost estimating is currently wrapped into and implied in several competencies, most notably under the category Business, Budgeting and Contracting.  This includes Total Cost of Ownership, Contracting and Budget Formulation.  It can certainly be argued that none of these functions can be executed without a fundamental estimating skillset.  

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is the ability to understand the true costs of operating a building through the application of Life-cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA).  There are several methodologies that can be used to develop a LCCA.  Some rely on whole building models or parametric approaches to simplify the process.  But all require an estimating skillset to develop the first-cost or Current Replacement Value (CRV).  The FBPTA competency is focused on the conceptual understanding of TCO and the ability to utilize software tools, but without a basic estimating competency, practitioners may be at risk of developing sub-standard LCCA outputs.

The vast majority of building investments beyond basic annual maintenance are contracted by the federal government to private firms, so the Contracting competency perhaps provides the avenue for the greatest potential cost savings.  The FBPTA outlines sub-competencies in assessing technical requirements and developing a Statement of Work, and in managing a contract “to ensure compliance and full value of the service or product being provided.”  What is lacking in the competency definition is the skill to confidently determine price-reasonableness for facilities projects through an Independent Government Estimate, and to manage the cost of contract modifications.  This skill is key to extracting maximum value for the government from contracts.

Strategically planning for facility investments is encompassed by the Budgeting competency.  This entails not only understanding agency-specific budget submission requirements, but being able to use a vast array of data, tools, and skills to predict and analyze the cost and value of different facilities projects.  Federal building personnel must be able to develop quick conceptual estimates for go/no-go decisions, produce more detailed estimates for capital planning, benchmark costs across time and different geographic locations, leverage estimating costs to prioritize deferred maintenance, and again, to develop Life-Cycle Cost Analysis to inform intelligent federal facility investments.  None of these can be accomplished without a broad estimating skillset.

Estimating is fundamental to many of the competencies required by FBPTA, but nowhere is it called out specifically.  A recent conversation with the FBPTA Program Manager at GSA highlighted that there is a great deal of deliberate flexibility in fulfilling the competencies, and certainly training in estimating can contribute to one’s demonstration of FBPTA competencies.  However, estimating is such a cornerstone skillset that it should be wrapped into FBPTA as a distinct competency.  The evolutionary framework of FBPTA provides the mechanism to do so.  Perhaps we just need the vision and leadership of an estimating champion involved in FBPTA.