Assistant Commissioner for Project Delivery, Public Buildings Service
General Services Administration
In only 18 months and $565 million under budget, obligated $5.5 billion in economic stimulus funding to construct new federal buildings and make existing ones more energy efficient and sustainment.
During the depths of the nation’s economic crisis, Congress provided the General Services Administration (GSA) with $5.5 billion in stimulus funding to make federal buildings more energy efficient, and to construct new, environmentally-friendly federal offices, courthouses and land ports of entry.
The effort was unprecedented in scope and in the aggressive 18-month timetable set by Congress to award contracts and get projects started. The Council of Economic Advisers has projected that the GSA stimulus spending will provide more than 60,000 jobs, while GSA estimates that it will save millions of dollars a year in energy costs, give a boost to the construction industry and improve the government’s inventory of buildings.
Bill Guerin, a 28-year GSA veteran, was given the task of leading this highly ambitious effort. According to colleagues, Guerin tackled the job with gusto, creating an efficient, streamlined management system to identify the projects that now number more than 270; to accept and quickly process the bids and award the contracts under strict guidelines; to ensure that the specifications and timelines were being met; and to prevent fraud, waste and abuse.
“Bill did things smarter and faster. He innovated and positioned us as a leader,” said GSA’s Public Buildings Service Commissioner Bob Peck. “It was a real game changer.”
And the contracts, Peck said, came in $565 million under projected costs.
GSA’s annual capital construction program typically entails less than $1 billion in design and construction activity, meaning that Guerin had to pull together a team to help him lead an initiative far beyond the agency norm. Guerin recruited talent within GSA and facilitated the hiring of about 200 people from the construction industry for temporary and term employment to expedite the process.
In addition, Guerin changed many business practices of the Public Buildings Service so it could be more agile. This included altering the relationship between headquarters and the 11 GSA regions, which were concerned about the loss of autonomy and how the national program would roll out.
“I was very sensitive to this, and I did not want to have a command and control from the headquarters,” said Guerin. “I wanted the people in the regions to be the executors of the program, and I reinforced this message with my staff.”
Martha Johnson, the GSA administrator, said Guerin created a model that was “highly collaborative, cross-functional, transparent and focused on streamlining activities.”
“There were so many moving pieces and every single one of them offered an opportunity,” said Johnson. “Bill found opportunities where we didn’t look before.”
Guerin is now overseeing the implementation and construction of many of the projects. About 30 of the 270 projects are fully completed, and the rest are underway.
Guerin said $4.5 billion of the funding under the stimulus law, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, went to make the top 200 federal buildings in GSA’s inventory more energy efficient. He said projects have included installation of high-efficiency, reflective roofs and photovoltaic panels; replacement of old, inefficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems; and upgrading aging electrical, mechanical and plumbing infrastructure.
The remainder of the money was awarded for new construction, including the Department of Homeland Security’s new headquarters in Washington D.C., the largest construction project in the region since the Pentagon was built in 1943.
Guerin said that many of the other projects are “in the thick of construction,” such as the Major General Emmett J. Bean Federal Center in Indianapolis, which was cited as one of the “100 Recovery Act Projects that are Changing America” by Vice President Joe Biden. GSA is installing 5,760 solar panels on the building’s roof.
GSA projects are distributed all across the country, including Honolulu, Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, Bakersville, Calif., and Jackman, Me.
With expenditures now at around $50 million per week, Guerin said that the Recovery Act’s projects have had a huge impact in stimulating job growth in the construction and real estate sectors, and have enabled GSA to become a leader in green technology.
Guerin said his background as an architect taught him to look at “the whole picture” as he undertook the management challenge. He said he also operated on the assumption that “there are no unsolvable problems, you just need more people at the table to help solve the problem.”
Johnson, the GSA administrator, said Guerin was able to articulate “great vision,” while paying close attention to detail. She said he knows how to “respond on a dime” and “rally people” to get things done.
“GSA is about getting government to work well and be effective,” said Johnson. “Bill demonstrated this. He got government to work better.”