A Conversation with Seven State Agencies

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Capital outlay is the State of California’s investment into the future. From buildings to infrastructure, state agencies and departments undertake a complex process to obtain legislative authorization and funding. Each agency is led by a professional team, responsible for conceptualizing projects, cost and budget control, programming, site planning and master planning, and other activities related to managing the State’s construction process. The capital outlay program managers from seven organizations in California – the Association of Capital Outlay Managers (ASCOM) – gather together quarterly to discuss mutual issues of concern. Members in this group include representatives from the: Department of Rehabilitation, California State University, DGS, Administrative Office of the Courts, Department of Water Resources, University of California, Cal Fire, and Department of Corrections.

Recently, I was invited to join them for a “conversation” to discuss issues facing the State and how the architectural profession can respond. Public procurement issues, adopting best practices from the public sector, and the AIACC’s advocacy for restoring design leadership in State Government were topics of interest among the group. Committed to protect the State’s investment while exploring opportunities for excellence, I was impressed on the overall sentiment of looking for ways to improve the project delivery process for all participants.

As we collectively prepare for a post-recession economy, this is an excellent opportunity to reflect on current practices and to learn where and how to increase efficiency, reduce waste and better position the State.

The AIACC believes that California’s number one market sector, the design and construction industry, lacks an advocate within the administration to coordinate and manage policy decisions regarding the State’s infrastructure investment, as well as identify issues and concerns of the industry in general. As a consequence, the State’s infrastructure needs, and the impacts on the general public and other state and local public agencies, are not comprehensively considered. Further, infrastructure – related decisions do not benefit from critical policy deliberations and the collaborative input of an architectural perspective.

While there was concern about how this “advocate” would interface with the existing agencies and processes, we discussed the need for “coordination” within the state; something the ASCOM supports as they convene to increase coordination and communication internally.

The discussion about the current issues surrounding public procurement was more challenging. In the challenging economic environment, I regularly hear from architects about the tremendous investment firms are making to compete for public work, the changing process in terms of selection (ie: less stringent pre-qualifications process and an increase in firms on the “short list”), and the frustration firms are having with the process which is leading to decisions not to pursue public projects. This situation is neither beneficial to the health and longevity to the profession nor restoring a culture of innovation to the State and steps must be taken to address these issues. To that end, the AIACC will pursue development of guidelines to assist public agencies during the procurement process and embark upon an educational campaign with firms and agencies about the issues so together we can create healthy and sustainable buildings for the citizens of California.

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Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA

Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA and Executive Vice President of the AIA California Council (AIACC), is the former interim Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C.

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