020 Interview with NIH Branch Chief

SHThis week I’m pleased to share my interview with Stephanie Hixson, PE, LEED AP with you.  She is a Branch Chief for the Laboratory Branch in the Division of Design and Construction within the Office of Research Facilities at the National Institutes of Health [NIH] in Bethesda, MD. She supervises a group of project officers that focus on the design and construction of laboratories and research facilities.

[Q] What project management tools do you use to keep projects on schedule and on budget?

[A] We have internal systems for tracking project budgets and tracking our schedules primarily with Microsoft Project for the smaller projects and Primavera for the larger projects as well as for master scheduling (all active projects).

[Q] As you know, stakeholders bring different and sometimes opposing agendas to a project, what is one tool that your group uses to build consensus?

[A] We have a large group of stakeholders both internal to the faculty division as well as within other groups such as Safety, Security, Fire Marshall, and of course the end user.  Within our facility division, we have a robust internal permitting system, which is automated to facilitate milestone design reviews where the stakeholders comment on each design submission.

[Q] Where can consultants go to find out what jobs are coming up on campus?  Can you tell me a little bit about the designer selection process?

[A] There is a monthly vendor briefing sponsored by our Office of Acquisitions that is open to the public.  For both design and construction contractor selection, we primarily utilize Indefinite Delivery, indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) task contracts which have a defined ceiling over the lifespan of the contract and are typically valid for up to five (5) years if renewed annually.  These contracts can be sole source (one vendor) or multi-award (multiple vendors compete for each task) and typically target small business interests.  

[Q] What is one thing that consultants do that hinder the success of a project?

[A] We have an internal design requirements manual in addition to standard codes to follow that is geared toward lab design.  If an architect or engineer is not familiar with this manual, it usually results in a longer schedule to receive a construction permit.

[Q] What are two things that consultants do that can ensure the success of a project?

[A] Get familiar with the DRM (Design Requirements Manual) and keep the project team (Project Officer/Contractor Officer) informed as soon as possible if you feel an unforeseen condition has created a scope increase.

[Q] What jumps out at you when you are reviewing designer submittals for RFPs?

[A] The most common comments we receive are coordination between disciplines.

[Q] Does your team manage projects in design and construction or do you have project managers (PM) for the design phase that hand it over to a construction manager during the construction phase?

[A] Our PM’s manage from project inception through occupancy.  We have in-house design capabilities, although the majority of our designs are contracted with outside firms.  We also use both design-bid-build and design-build delivery depending on project size and complexity. 

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