June 2, 2023

A Dive into the Design and Construction Evaluation Program

Ayumi Davis
USACE, NORTH ATLANTIC DIVISION
Kevin Merenda, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District metro area engineer, explains a contract for groin construction for Rockaway Beach to the Design and Construction Evaluation Review team on Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York, March 29, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Tyler Bush)
Kevin Merenda, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District metro area engineer, explains a contract for groin construction for Rockaway Beach to the Design and Construction Evaluation Review team on Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York, March 29, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Tyler Bush)

The Design and Construction Evaluation (DCE) program is part of the North Atlantic Division (NAD) regional quality assurance program. As a major subordinate command, NAD is responsible for quality assurance of the districts within its area of responsibility.

“Quality assurance is such a broad topic; there's so many areas that we need to look at to make sure we're getting quality products and that we're achieving quality construction standards,” said Matthew Walsh, an engineering and construction quality assurance coordinator at NAD. “We need to look at many different processes and procedures within engineering and construction in any phase.”

As part of NAD’s command guidance, districts nominate projects to examine that are either under construction or being designed, with an average of 12 projects nominated per fiscal year. Of the nominations, one project per each of the districts is selected by the DCE program to be evaluated.

“Ideally, we look for a project that’s under construction, in the 30 to 50 percent completion, but we have looked at projects in the design phase and we’ve gone back and looked at those projects reviewed under design during construction as well,” Walsh said.

“We try to get a pretty good cross section between military, civil works, environmental, interagency or international work just so we’re reviewing all of our business lines,” said Tyler Bush, who is also an engineering and construction quality assurance coordinator for NAD.

Once the projects are picked, a review team is chosen comprised of members from different districts.

“We try to put together a multidisciplinary team,” Bush said. “We build about a ten-person team from non-local districts. We ask for senior personnel, but, sometimes, we get folks that are new to the Corps and that brings different perspectives to the project.”

After they get together, the review teams will visit the site for three days to evaluate the project.

“We interview the PDT [Project Delivery Team], the construction folks, engineering, project management, the stakeholders, and the user,” Walsh said. “On day three, we put together a PowerPoint presentation that's turned into the DCE report that has all the findings and recommendations. We identify strengths and weaknesses, as well as any nonconformance or critical issue that could be a safety concern missing significant project documentation or not following policy.”

“We try to evaluate the project through all phases of the acquisition lifecycle, from planning, design, construction,” said Bush. “Usually, we don't make it to contract closeout, but there may be other contracts where we are able to review that phase.

“We look for compliance with policy, our enterprise and regional processes, and then, of course, best practices. We make recommendations, but then we also are there to assess regional strengths and weaknesses and gather lessons learned that we can take back to other districts or the enterprise. Although we are reviewing one project, we try to review both from a broad sense of what impacts other areas of our business and other districts and a focused sense of what impacts this project or other projects within the district, and then we try to take those back and incorporate those lessons elsewhere.”

Steve Dougherty, a construction project engineer at New England District’s Westover Resident Office, said his experience being evaluated while working on a Westover Air Reserve Base hangar for the Regionalized Isochronal Inspection program was a good and validating experience.

“I always welcome a second set of eyes coming to the site,” Dougherty said. “The team did identify some areas to work on which was good. We take them in as positives.

“They were also very excited about the fact that it was a very clean site and the relationship with the contractor was fantastic and just the way the team worked and the dynamics of everything. It was nice to hear it confirmed from someone. We always think we got a good team, and when you have your staff assistance visit and they confirm it, it’s rewarding.”

Dougherty also has had the opportunity to be a part of a review team, and noted it was another rewarding experience.

“It’s nice because you’re meeting up with people from different districts,” he said. “It gives you the opportunity to dialogue on themes and methods and on taking care of certain situations whether it’s a good idea, bad idea, tough contractor and quality control. So, it’s just seeing how other people deal with it and trying to work the benefits out of that.

“The biggest thing is the positives that can come out of it and then the positive takeaways and passing them along, because not every district does things the same way and some have some things that really work well, and it gives you an opportunity to try it out.”

“They [reviewers] are happy to help and they would love to come out again. We end up with a lot of repeat reviewers that way. We couldn’t do it without their expertise,” Bush said.

Recently, Walsh and Bush released their first overall Design and Construction Evaluation Report, which covers and summarizes findings from all of the projects evaluated during the fiscal year.

“The annual report cuts to the chase and gets important snippets out of these DCE reports. It provides a specific synopsis of what we saw at each project and then the trends from that year’s DCE program,” Bush said. “It makes it a lot faster for us to refer back to in the future when we’re thinking about some of these lessons learned or training activities that we would like to see.”

This year’s evaluations are already underway, with Bush and Walsh having completed three of the six visits.

“This year, we added folks outside of the North Atlantic Division to help give us a broader perspective,” Bush said. “Matt and I are reaching and trying to coordinate with other MSCs [major subordinate commands] that are performing DCEs to bring them on board to see how we’re doing it and then teach us what they do a little differently or give us advice as well.”

Bush and Walsh reflected on their roles as quality assurance coordinators.

“For me being in this role, I feel that it’s probably the most beneficial role I’ve had in my career,” Walsh said. “I think performing these quality reviews, we always provide findings and recommendations that make a difference, whether it’s adding a process or highlighting something that is a regional issue. I have a diverse background, so I feel I can use that knowledge I have gained over the years and look at many types of projects reviewing processes and procedures and highlighting what’s most important.”

“What I like is that Matt and I, I feel, have a very broad mission assignment,” Bush said. “Within that, we really get to choose our own adventure, find the projects that are most critical and interesting to us, and determine the best ways to bring this information back and improve execution in the region. We also get to meet, and learn from, so many different teams and see so many varied projects. I think that we make a difference, and it feels good that we have a positive influence on an organization as critical as the Corps of Engineers.”

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