Late last month, United States Forces Japan, Government of Japan Ministry of Defense (MOD) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan Engineer District (JED) gathered together at the Bilateral Strategic Initiative Review (BSIR) over two days to discuss progress on two Bilateral Senior Engineer Conference (BSEC) initiatives aimed at reducing project delays, costs and creating efficiencies for the Japanese construction industry when they work on U.S. funded Military and host nation funded projects. The BSIR gave military, engineer and construction industry leaders an opportunity to provide updates on the bi-lateral initiatives and have open conversations to identify key next steps to continue implementation of the initiatives. Two of the three initiatives discussed were the USG-GOJ Alliance Programmatic View: A New Approach to Synchronizing Facilities Construction Japan-wide and the Specifications: Acceptable Alternative Japanese Standards.

"Right now, we have more than $4 billion in U.S. funded Military and host nation funded projects in execution, and these initiatives will allow us to make the projects less cumbersome, more desirable and enable our Japanese construction industry to grow," said Colonel Thomas Verell II, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, JED Commander. "When we meet again in early 2020, these bi-lateral initiatives will be ready to be implemented, and we will be able to work together to reduce project delays, build a strong contractor base and decrease bid-busting projects."

These BSEC initiatives were created in February 2019 to address the limited contractor base in Japan, aging labor market, differing U.S. criteria and standards, extended timelines and translation challenges for U.S. funded Military construction projects. In addition, they also sought improvements to base access, consistent support for unseen site conditions including Unexploded Ordnances and oversaturating the limited contractor base with multiple projects. In August, Working Group leaders gave updates on each initiative and hosted break out sessions to collaborate with all partners on next steps, implementation strategies, and strategic communications.

The USG-GOJ Alliance Programmatic View Working Group was tasked with improving bid-ability by decreasing base access issues, attracting a wider contractor base and increasing project transparency among all construction projects to maximize efficiency and avoid oversaturating the market. Right now, base access issues are a hindrance to projects and add an estimated 10-25% to costs due to delays, and extended project approval timelines cause construction companies to go over budget. Limited base access also creates delays for all base personnel and adds to unnecessary construction traffic throughout the base, which restricts base functions. In an effort to reduce base access issues, the Working Group recommended the U.S. Government work directly with base commanders to create more consistent approaches to security that could provide more gate access and direct haul routes. To increase project transparency, the U.S. Government and Government of Japan MOD will collaborate on Ministry of Defense Days, develop an acquisition schedule for all projects, advertise U.S.-funded projects on appropriate sites and reduce extended approval timelines.

The Specifications: Acceptable Alternative Japanese Standards Working Group's focus during the BSIR was to identify local materials that could be acceptable to use in projects, which would improve bid-ability, construction timelines, lower costs and ensure local maintainability. To do this, the Working Group conducted a side-by-side evaluation of U.S. and Japanese standards for construction materials, systems, testing and professional certifications that meet U.S. requirements. In addition to specification analysis, another group identified the UFCs with the most impacts on alliance construction, and developed strategies to seek changes or exemptions.

Moving forward, each Working Group identified actionable tasks to complete over the next six months that will make initiative implementation a reality. The Working Group leaders, along with industry partners, will come back together in Spring 2020 at the 21st annual Bilateral Senior Engineer Conference to present how the initiatives will be executed across all U.S. funded Military and host nation funded construction projects.

"Our partnership and collaborative work on these initiatives with the Government of Japan MOD and the Japanese construction and engineering industry has been an incredible experience and lets us understand the many perspectives about each challenge to better address the root cause," said Major General Anthony Funkhouser, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Deputy Commanding General. "Next spring's BSEC, where we can clearly identify ways to implement the initiatives, alleviate issues and better support our partners will be a transformative moment in how we successfully conduct business and bring our projects to fruition."


ABOUT U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS, JAPAN ENGINEER DISTRICT
Japan Engineer District is one of four Engineer Districts in Pacific Ocean Division, which focuses on the design, management and construction of various host nation and military construction projects. JED delivers high quality, sustainable, comprehensive engineering and construction services in Japan in support of peacetime and contingency operations throughout the region. It successfully executes the full spectrum of required missions as the United States Forces Japan Construction Agent. To find out more information about JED please visit http://www.poj.usace.army.mil/ and https://www.facebook.com/JapanEngineerDistrict/.