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Brick by brick, American business loses edge
Question of the Day
In an election year, with congressional seats at stake and a steady erosion of manufacturing jobs, Mr. Johnson is wondering whether lawmakers will press the Army for oversight of the subcontracting process.
“These jobs are not coming back,” he said. “We don’t just send out a memo, either. We go into the factory and explain what is happening, like a family at the kitchen table. It’s painful to look into people’s eyes.”
Although the school at Fort Bragg was not going to make or break Summitville, Mr. Johnson said it would have helped stop the bleeding.
“When folks are down, I’d think the military in particular would want to help American companies,” he said.
In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the $39 million Fort Bragg school construction contract to Balfour Beatty Construction, a subsidiary of a British engineering firm of the same name. The firm has more than $16 billion in annual revenue.
Balfour Beatty has excelled in winning military contracts.
From 2000 to 2008, the Defense Department awarded the company more than $185 million in contracts, according to federal government records. In October, the firm announced an award of military construction projects totaling $449 million.
Once a general contractor was hired for the Fort Bragg project, Mr. Johnson said, the Army “preselected” his German competitor to provide brick for the school.
Had ‘no role’
Army officials contend they had “no role in the selection of contractors or materials,” said Fort Bragg Garrison public affairs officer Thomas D. McCollum. “That belongs to the Army Corps of Engineers.”
Not so, countered Louis J. Moore, chief of the regional contracting center for the Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, Ga. He said the general contractor chooses subcontractors and materials.
“Every general contractor has their own way of doing it,” Mr. Moore said.
Officials at the Department of Defense Education Activity Fund, which provides funding for school construction on military bases from its $1.8 billion annual budget, pointed to Fort Bragg: “The local installation has the final say on those matters,” Kevin Kelly, chief of financial operations, said of the selection of building materials.
Complying with specifications issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, Balfour Beatty solicited bids last fall for a brick veneer wall system for the Fort Bragg school from a number of companies, said Balfour Senior Vice President Kent Long.
Mr. Long said many factors come into play in choosing a vendor: price of materials, availability, conformity with Army standards. A key factor at Fort Bragg, he said, was that one of Summitville’s competitors, Feldhaus Klinker, a German company, supplied brick for two other projects under way at the base.
By Michael P. Orsi
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