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Preston Haskell Remembers

Educated at Princeton, Harvard Business School and MIT, Preston Haskell is founder and chairman of The Haskell Company. Established in 1965 in Jacksonville, Fla., as the Preston H. Haskell Company, the firm was among the first integrated design-build companies in the United States. Rebranded “The Haskell Company, Architects/Engineers/Contractors” in 1978, the year Florida enacted legislation allowing corporations to practice architecture, The Haskell Company is now among the largest fully integrated design-builders worldwide and performs design-build services across a wide range of building types as well as water/wastewater facilities.

While building a successful firm, Mr. Haskell also identified a need for an organization devoted to design-build project delivery and organized the first meeting of what would become the Design-Build Institute of America. He talked to DBIA about the Institute’s founding and early success.

Forming an organization dedicated to design-build was the topic of a meeting you called in February 1993. What prompted you to invite design-builders to Washington, D.C., that winter?

Preston Haskell: Jim Gray, of Gray Construction, was in Jacksonville a month or two before and he encouraged me to think about an independent organization devoted to design-build. In the previous year or so, I had explored the possibility of creating practice groups devoted to design-build within AIA and AGC. Those efforts did not go very far, however, and we came to the conclusion that an organization with a singular focus had its own virtues. Jim thought we should develop a list of the leading design-builders, limiting them to a dozen.

Almost everyone invited came to Washington for a dinner on the evening of February 15 and stayed over for a business meeting the following day. Over supper, we got to know each other and the next day we talked about how to move forward. A five-person steering committee was appointed that included Kraig C. Kreikemeyer of Sverdrup Facilities, Inc., Rik Kunnath of Charles Pankow Builders Ltd., Don Warren of Suitt Construction – all of whom became chairman in the following years – and Jim Gray and me. We met frequently beginning a few weeks later.

By late spring, we had the organizational structure fleshed out and we each started taking names and soliciting membership interest. We also engaged Jeff Beard to be the first Executive Director. He came to my attention via his 1992 paper Design-Build in the Federal Sector for ASCE and his knowledge and enthusiasm impressed all of us. He came on board early in the steering committee phase and was on hand when we formally launched in October of 1993.

At the first meeting of the steering committee we talked about what we should call the new organization. At that time “Design/Construct” and “Design-Build” were used almost equally to describe the method. Design-build flowed off the tongue better and we decided upon the name “Design-Build Institute of America.”

The first formal meeting of the membership occurred October 13, 1993, with 25 people in attendance, held in an airport hotel conference room in Chicago. I urged Kraig to be the first board chair, but he declined and I was called upon to be chairman. I agreed to serve for the remainder of 1993 and through 1994.

It was a hard-working board consisting of the five steering committee members and an additional two added at the Chicago meeting. Jeff Beard and his assistant, Lisa-Marie Castaldi, had space in a co-work environment at 601 Pennsylvania Avenue. And the two of them worked 24/7. That was the first year’s staff and, as DBIA grew, the staff grew.

What were DBIA’s early goals as an organization?

Preston Haskell: One of DBIA’s early goals was the adoption of design-build procurement authority at both the state and the federal level. Passage of federal legislation was very important and we began early in 1994. At the time we were fortunate to have three allies without whom we would not have accomplished our goal.

First of all, Chet Widom [Chester A. Widom, FAIA] was the President of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1994. Previously, AIA had been ambivalent and somewhat adverse to design-build but when Chet took office in January of that year he quickly saw that design-build was coming and that AIA would be much better off being part of that change rather than opposing it. Chet and I bonded and he made design-build a top priority. He also put AIA’s much larger staff and lobbyists at our disposal.

Second, our new Executive Director, Jeff Beard, had worked in government affairs at ASCE. He was the perfect point person, waking up every day thinking about the legislation and keeping track of everything. And later Representative Tom Davis of Virginia provided crucial support.

Did President Clinton’s 1993 National Performance Review [a six-month review of federal agencies and the issues that cut across agencies, such as personnel, procurement and budget policies] contribute positively or negatively to your effort?

Preston Haskell: The Administration’s emphasis on streamlining procurement certainly gave our efforts greater impetus. Throughout the early months and into the summer of 1994, progress was made as we worked with GSA, DoD and the OFPP [Office of Federal Procurement Policy] as well as AIA, ACEC, AGC and ASCE. We made great strides in a very short period of time and our bill passed the Senate in July.

We were all optimistic that any differences in the House and Senate versions would be worked out in committee. It was about to pass in the House when Congressman Jack Brooks got wind of it. He was the author of the Brooks Act [the 1972 Act that requires government agencies to select designers based on qualifications rather than price] and was very protective of it and did not want to see anything counter to it pass the House. He had absolutely no formal standing and was no longer on the relevant committee, but he sent a letter to one of his colleagues and that was the end of the House bill. It was the way Congress worked in those days.
That must have been quite a setback. How did you regroup?
Preston Haskell: On November 8, 1994, Brooks lost his seat in the Republican landslide and that hurdle was removed. Although Chet’s year at the helm of AIA ended two months later, AIA itself remained on board and continued to support the effort.

In early 1995, we broadened and formalized our coalition of Washington-based industry associations. The resulting group, the Design and Construction Procurement Coalition, consisted of seven established and powerful industry groups [ACEC, AIA, ASCE, ABC, AGC, CIPF and NSPE] in addition to not-yet two-year-old DBIA. The coalition’s steering committee was composed of volunteer leadership and a technical committee was made up of staff representatives of each organization. We had letterhead indicating our alignment for the purposes of formal communications. The objective was for the A/E/C industry to speak as one voice to advocate for this single issue – design-build procurement – at the federal level.

Again, things moved along rather briskly but this time we had the support of Congressman Davis who now chaired Gov Ops [the Governmental Operations Committee] and saw to it that our language was included in the Federal Acquisition Reform Act of 1995 that passed the House unanimously in September of that year. Almost simultaneously, the House included acquisition reform language in its defense authorization bill, where enactment was considered more likely than in a freestanding bill.

Concurrently, Senate acquisition reform efforts proceeded — albeit on a more limited and less aggressive basis. The House version prevailed in conference and passed the Senate as part of the defense authorization bill. By December, both chambers had passed the bill and forwarded it to President Clinton, who vetoed it based on the cost of the defense programs but urged Congress to delete the unacceptable provisions and return it to him, noting with approval the inclusion of important acquisition reform. That was encouraging.

By early February, the Federal Acquisition Reform Act (FARA) [now called the Clinger-Cohen Act] was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996.

What was next?

Preston Haskell: We still had a lot of work to do. The statute had been enacted but we still had to enact implementing regulations. That’s where Jeff and the others were so important. But once we had the regs in place, there was still a lot of leg work to do with the executive branch agencies to get them to use design-build, an effort which continues to this day. The statute was permissive, not compulsory.

To what do you attribute DBIA’s early success?

Preston Haskell: In addition to the dynamics outlined above, we had a small but very hard working staff and an intensely involved board of directors. We had an almost missionary zeal about the merits of design-build delivery and enjoyed a certain satisfaction and validation from its increasingly widespread acceptance. It’s great to see what those who followed us have accomplished, multiplying our early efforts many times.


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