Many designers, installers and building management personnel view working with the federal government as appealing as getting an electric shock. Many believe that the Federal Government uses its own code and those individuals trying to design, install or manage any type of system or building within federal jurisdiction will entail too much code review, change orders and red tape to make the project worthwhile.
As far as codes go, it is really not that difficult to work with the federal agencies.
The General Services Administration (GSA) was established in 1949. GSA is charged with construction parameters for all new federal buildings. The 1988 Public Building Amendments Act requires that all federal buildings be constructed, reconstructed or altered to the maximum extent feasible in compliance with one of the nationally recognized model building codes and other applicable nationally recognized codes such as electrical codes, plumbing codes and fire and life safety codes. The act also requires that the GSA give consideration to (but not necessarily comply with) the requirements of local building codes.
Both the Navy and the Army Corps of Engineers have “guide specifications” taken directly from different model codes and also require the “most stringent” code language depending on local codes versus the one in their guide specifications.
All federal agencies responsible for developing standards are required to review their standards at least every five years and to cancel those for which an “adequate and appropriate voluntary standard” is available.
What all of this means to the designer, installer and managers of buildings is that for the most part, working on or in federal buildings should be no different than your “standard” commercial building.
But there will be some differences. The charge to anyone involved in the process of designing or installing systems in a federal building is to be very familiar with the codes and standards in force at the site where the building is planned for construction.
Generally speaking, some of the additional “guide specifications” the designer or contractor will encounter may be more stringent than the nationally accepted code, and these are the areas of most concern. That is why knowing, or at least owning a copy of these codes and standards is so important.
There are other issues to be aware of when working on or in some federal buildings. In today’s environment, security has become much more important.
As reported in the archrecord.construction.com article in May of 2002, the GSA “released new directives for a category of information about its public buildings known as ‘sensitive but unclassified.’”
The GSA in their effort to maintain open access to equipment plans, operating plans and locations of secure functions within federal buildings, provided three principles for tenants, architects, engineers and contractors to follow for the distribution of these materials:
• Only give the information to those who have a need to know
• Keep records of who received the information
• Safeguard the information during use and destroy it properly after use
All of the “protected” material must bear prominent stamps marking them “for official use only.” Although there are some additional requirements, doing business in the federal construction world isn’t as difficult as some people would have you believe. For those designers, installers and managers of buildings and building systems who have a well-trained workforce and a clear understanding of national codes and standards, federal construction work should not be intimidating.
MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.