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Before it can hire contractors to construct or renovate federal buildings, the Public Buildings Department of the General Services Administration must hire architects. Over the years, some of the best architects in the world have designed federal buildings. From now on, the GSA wishes to ensure the diversity of its list of architects. It signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Organization of Minority Architects. To find out more, the Commissioner of the Public Buildings Department Nina Albert spoke with the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Tom Temin: Mrs. Albert, good to see you again.

Nina Albert: Thanks for having me, Tom, I always enjoy talking to you and your listeners.

Tom Temin: And tell us more about the architecture procurement and contracting process. It is totally different from construction and renovation. Because there’s, I guess, the aesthetic element here that people sometimes take for granted.

Nina Albert: Well, as you know, or your listeners may know, the GSA is one of the principal land agencies of the federal government. We manage 1,300 federal buildings, which we own. Thirty percent of these buildings are historic facilities, which is quite remarkable. And we continue to build or renovate. And all of this activity requires designers, engineers, and then, as you said, the general contractors who actually build come a bit later in the process. So we’re going out, the architects are involved in the development process, very, very early. They will work with us on feasibility studies, really trying to determine the size of the building, how it fits into a site. And then of course when we pull the trigger and know we’re going to move forward with a project, then they’ll do the design. And they’re responsible for the exterior of the building, they’re responsible for the interior of the building, and just as important in our world is to make sure that our federal buildings, when they interface and interact with the space and the community around us, are truly tied to the essence of community. So they play an incredibly important role in development.

Tom Temin: And how does the selection work? Because again, it’s the look of the building and the interior environment that people are going to live with for the next 50 years. It is therefore not a question of ensuring that the concrete conforms to the specifications.

Nina Albert: It’s true. I think the process of hiring architects is actually not that different from the process of hiring any other contractor. The difference is what particular qualities are you looking for? We are therefore going to launch a call for tenders. Companies will bid. We are looking for qualifications, have they carried out projects similar to the one we are proposing? Who is their team, because that’s really who you’ve probably been working with for several years? Are they qualified or do they have the time? And then of course, what is their price? So all of these things that we evaluate and review, and ultimately make a decision.

Tom Temin: And tell us about this agreement, this memorandum of understanding with the Minority Architects. I assume that makes GSA a member of the National Association of Minority Architects?

Nina Albert: Well I just want to say I’m so glad you even thought of highlighting this as one of the stories you do because diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility is the one of the priorities of the Biden-Harris administration. And we believe the GSA can play a huge role in advancing some of those goals. Thus, the field and the industry of commercial real estate are not particularly representative and diversified. And so across all the different groups of people and underrepresented populations in the workforce, we’re trying to reach. The National Organization of Minority Architects is the largest organization of underrepresented people who are professional architects. They have 2,500 members. And so they’re a great connection point for us. The memorandum of understanding is really a three-part memorandum of understanding. One is about education and sharing, being part of their programs, participating so we can learn and be better employers. Another element is an internship path, and how can the GSA benefit from this relationship and hire young architects ourselves? And then the third is really education about federal government contracts? And how can architecture firms owned by people of color understand the selection process and get into the pipeline? So it’s a three-part memorandum of understanding, and we just launched it in February of this year.

Tom Temin: We speak with Nina Albert, she is commissioner of the Public Buildings Department in the General Services Administration. And you touched on something that I think is really important. Perhaps you could clarify that sometimes it is not so easy for the uninitiated to do business with the federal government. In fact, it may seem like the hardest thing about the whole process, let alone designing the building. So are there provisions to facilitate this without taking away any of the competitive qualities you need in the current architect?

Nina Albert: We are looking for, GSA like you plays a major role in public procurement. We are therefore seeking at all levels to streamline, simplify and make federal contracting opportunities much more accessible. The smaller the businesses, the more complicated it becomes for them to compete largely because of the time it may take or the expertise you need to have developed to compete effectively. So we are looking holistically and holistically at how to make the sourcing experience and process easier to access. We also make significant efforts to reach out to the small business community. And so our Office of Small Business and Disadvantaged Business Utilization has a program, again to do that proactive outreach, to engage people early, to educate them on our process so that ultimately when they are in competition, they can be more successful. So that’s still part of our contribution. And frankly, we believe it’s our mandate to make sure federal government contracts are more readily available.

Tom Temin: And how do internships fit into this whole picture, because it’s a different relationship with the person?

Nina Albert: We have a pretty amazing internship program. It’s called the GSA Pathway program. It is an entry point for students from high school to graduate school, to have paid internships at the GSA. It is quite extraordinary. So there are three distinct programs within it. The first is the recent graduate program. Another is the Presidential Management Scholarship Program. And then the third is the internship program, which is the most important of the three. So people can go to the GSA website, search for the internship program or any of the others and apply. And the great part about it is that it’s paid, which so many students need right now. And that also equates to the playing field for people who may come from underrepresented communities, and where that paid internship really becomes even more important. But that applies to everyone, as we know.

Tom Temin: Sure. And going back to the acquisition end, give us an idea of ​​how much architecture GSA is buying, because people tend to think of architects in terms of here it’s a new building, but new new buildings are relatively rare compared to all the other work that is going on. So where does the architecture fit in apart from brand new buildings?

Nina Albert: The architecture even fits into our repair and modification programs. That’s the great thing about really coming in and having a contract with us is that if you’re a small business, we do what we call tenant outfits. So, you know, moving office buildings into an existing building. What you need an architect for, if you’re going to change the location of the walls, if you’re going to change the number of people in a space, that requires an architect to do some calculations, determine if there’s more air that needs to circulate in the space, etc, etc. So we have small and large projects, all of which require architects. The GSA has a significant program of new builds as well as repairs and modifications each year. I believe we spend between $2 billion and $4 billion a year. It’s all over the country. So there are opportunities really across the country. And then, with the bipartisan infrastructure act, we have $3.4 billion to invest in upgraded land ports of entry at our northern and southern borders. We will need architects for all this work. So there are lots of opportunities and we really look forward to working even more with our community of architects.

Tom Temin: Nina Albert is commissioner of the Public Buildings Department in the General Services Administration. Thank you very much for joining me.

Nina Albert: Thank you very much for having me.