AOU: Supporting consistent project quality

Published March 18, 2010

Robert Dow provides instruction to deployees from construction-related fields as part of the 15-hour Area Office University training. Photo by Kristin Hoelen, Middle East District Public Affairs Office.

The Middle East District’s Area Office University provides critical training each week for all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees who work on construction projects in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

AOU, a 15-hour course taught during two days by Construction-Operations Division, is a primary part of a Corps of Engineers’ initiative to maintain consistent quality on every construction project.

The training is required for people who deploy to the Transatlantic Division’s districts in Iraq and Afghanistan and for all MED employees with construction responsibilities in this region.

“The purpose is to establish uniformity in the way we do business, particularly in construction contract administration,” said Jeff Vandevander, civil engineer, Quality Assurance Branch and the manager for AOU training. “We want everyone in the field to have a basic understanding of construction contract management and the importance of the Resident Management System (RMS). We want them to become familiar with TAD policies and procedures for construction contract management.”

Only 24 percent of TAD’s deployees have more than five years of construction experience with USACE, according to Vandevander. The course enables the division’s construction personnel to be more informed and better prepared when they arrive at a field office.

The course is presented by Construction-Operations Division employees who have decades of field experience. Instructors are Robert Dow, Susan Maestri, John Babbs, Thomas Jackson, Raymond Sauer, Michael Graham, Barry Morley, and Vandevander.

The first day of training covers resident office roles and responsibilities, scheduling, pre-construction conferences, submittals, and requests for information. The course places special emphasis on the three-phase inspection process, quality assurance, and documentation.

The second day provides students a hands-on approach to RMS.

“RMS is the USACE-adopted and centralized tool for the management and documentation of all facets of a construction project,” Vandevander said. “Through this system, we manage submittals, requests for information, daily reports, and schedules. The contractor’s quality system links to RMS, giving us visibility of their quality program.

“It also gives our managers insight on the functions and reporting capabilities that RMS has,” Vandevander said. “In general, it allows both managers and construction personnel to be more efficient in contract administration and reporting.”

“The use of RMS is essential for solving our challenge with project continuity in theater,” said Col. Mike Wehr, NATO Training Mission – Engineer, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. “RMS can greatly reduce the friction caused by the rotation of construction representatives, the limited access to projects due to security, and the inherent communications challenges within Afghanistan.”

Participants anonymously complete a questionnaire at the end of each class, and the instructors constantly adapt the course to meet the needs of students. AOU instructors also invite deployees and field personnel to send their suggestions for course improvement once they have spent some time in the field. These suggestions are a great resource for instructors.

“Long-term, we hope the course can benefit the entire Corps,” Vandevander said. “TAD’s deployees will eventually return from our area of operations and carry the acquired knowledge to their home districts. It’s all about ‘building the bench.’”

According to Vandevander, AOU has trained nearly 600 people since beginning in October 2008, and the course has received a 97 percent overall approval rating from those who have attended.

"The course is well run (and) the instructors were knowledgeable and professional. The course is worthwhile for any personnel associated with construction going into the CENTCOM AOR,” said one course critique. “The two-day overview course would be especially useful for project managers and others going into theater to familiarize them with RMS and update them on the importance of RMS as a USACE corporate tool."

Tim Hess, deputy director, Joint Programs Integration Office, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said that the “AOU course is a step in the right direction to ensure that personnel assigned to construction offices in theater are aware of the capabilities of RMS and the importance of accurately entering construction project data.

“RMS is the primary source for post-award project data,” Hess continued. “USACE must do all it can to ensure the collection of quality, accurate project data during construction. It’s imperative that all personnel who will be involved in the construction phase of projects be aware of the capabilities of RMS and be well versed in using RMS.”

Erick Barnes

Release no. 13-043