German-American partnering meeting builds relationships, provides value
March 15, 2012
BAD DURKHEIM, Germany -- Representavites from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District met with German federal and state ministries and local contruction agencies to work through challenging regulatory and process issues during an annual partnering workshop here Feb. 22-23.
"Our goal with the partnership conference is to maintain the excellent relationships we have with the bauamt and ministries of construction," said Col. D. Peter Helmlinger, Europe District commander.
The long-standing event, held since 1992, is an opportunity for U.S. and German construction management counterparts to meet face to face.
"One reason we conduct this as an annual event is to maintain the relationships we have built in the past and introduce the new U.S. players," Helmlinger said. "Because of the high turnover of U.S. personnel, many of our players change."
The district experiences nearly 30-percent turnover per year, according to the district's Employee Support Office. This equates to one in three fresh U.S. faces each year.
On the German side there are new employees as well, explained Markus Rank, the head of German federal construction for the state of Rheinlad-Pfalz.
"We have a changing workforce. The U.S. side changes people out every three or so years and we have seen many new employees in our workforce. It is important to meet at these conferences to keep building the relationships," he said.
The event also provides an opportunity to address difficult issues related to executing U.S. forces construction work in Germany through the indirect contracting process, said Kristopher Hurst, chief of the district's Project Management Branch.
"It is a forum for two partners to get together and talk about issues that impact both sides," Hurst said.
Four major topics, including fire protection, project close out, environmental sustainability and construction schedule management, were discussed over the course of the two-day event. The workshop topics were identified as major challenges in 2011.
"Last year's conference was the ignition," Hurst said.
Throughout the year, the working groups, comprised of U.S. and German team members, pushed to define issues and move them forward. However, not all issues can be resolved at the working level.
"There are some issues we can collaborate on and others where we agree to disagree. The difficult issues need to be raised to a higher level," Hurst explained.
In addition to culture and language, regulations governing U.S. construction management and execution differ from German guidelines.
"We have state regulations. We have the VOB, ABG-75 and we have federal guidelines. Add U.S. regulations to this and you can easily see that there are challenges in how we conduct business," Rank said. "Understanding the differences in our processes is important because it causes confusion on both sides. We need to continue to work together to provide facilities to our customers."
Fire protection, for example, is a complicated issue. U.S. fire code requires sprinkler systems, whereas, German code requires thick walls and doors. But it is cost-prohibitive to install both, Helmlinger said.
"Of course there are differences between the German and U.S. sides, whether that's a construction standard, cultural differences or other differences that sometimes play a role in how we deal with each other," said Matthias Vollmer, the director of building engineering for the German Federal Ministry of Transportation, Building and Urban Affairs. "That's why sometimes our cooperation with each other is not as smooth as we would like it to be. My intention is to work out problems, find solutions, and specify the diffuse points in our joint rules."
Delivering projects on-time, on-budget and safely is a collective goal that both sides should aim to achieve, Helmlinger said. This goal is being accomplished in Germersheim where USACE and the bauamt are bringing the environmentally-sustainable Defense Logistics Agency distribution center to fruition under tough U.S. and German regulations.
The key to successful partnering, Hurst explained, is working together to identify where the rules and regulations on both sides are firm, but also where they aren't as firm.
"We can operate collaboratively in these gray areas to deliver projects efficiently and effectively," he said.
The partnering conference provides a platform to make progress on difficult issues. At the working level, the goal is to develop a smoother, easier approach to doing business, Vollmer said.
"We support you and take responsibility on behalf of you," he explained. "We need to have collaboration and be at an even level with each other."
The U.S. also supports the goals and objectives of the host nation construction agencies, Helmlinger explained.
"Let's continue to find win-win solutions to deliver the facilities needed on-time while complying with German construction law," Helmlinger said.