Examining government, state, municipal, federal, and military facilities: Automation, controls, and technology

Government and military projects are among the toughest challenges an engineer can face. Demanding facility owners, tight budget limitations, safety concerns, and other factors all come into play. Here, engineers with experience in the field offer advice on how to succeed in regards to automation, controls, and technology.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer July 17, 2018


  • Roger Chang, PE, LEED Fellow, Principal, DLR Group, Washington, D.C.
  • Shem Heiple, PE, LEED AP, Associate Principal, Senior Mechanical Engineer, Interface Engineering, Portland, Ore.
  • Dalrio Lewis, PE, Project Engineer, RTM Associates, Orlando, Fla.
  • Spencer Morgenthau, CPSM, LEED AP, Director of Business Development, Southland Energy, a division of Southland Industries, Sterling, Va.

CSE: Do you find the building owners of government, state, municipal, federal, and military facilities to be as receptive to advanced technologies (automation, controls, and other aspects) when specified for such projects, as compared with owners of private projects?

Chang: We find general receptiveness to advanced technologies that have favorable overall lifecycle cost performance. Many of the studies we perform look at 10- to 20-year horizons, rather than 3 to 5 for private-sector projects. The GSA’s Proving Ground program is an example of significant interest in the rigorous evaluation of new technologies, including the evaluation of marketplace maturity, impact on resource use, first-cost investment, and future adaptability.

Morgenthau: In many cases, our government clients are leading in this space. And while some might argue that buildings are arriving late to the Big Data game, the recent rise of IoT in buildings is clear. Government clients are becoming more interested in smart buildings they can access, monitor, operate, and control with their handheld devices. Integrated and automated lighting, HVAC, security, fire, fleet, and other systems are now being requested in these spaces.

Heiple: Government owners have been receptive to advanced technologies but with many of the same concerns private owners have, including a hesitancy to adopt new technology that has not been proven to be successfully operating in other, similar applications. With a growing emphasis on high-performance buildings, technologies that enable performance goals are desirable provided they make sense from a lifecycle perspective.

CSE: From your experience, what mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), or fire protection (MEP/FP systems within government, state, municipal, federal, and military projects are benefiting from automation that previously might not have?

Lewis: We have found that including building automation systems (BAS) has enhanced the government entities in their ability to quickly troubleshoot and efficiently correct issues that may be experienced at multiple facilities.

CSE: What types of system integration and/or interoperability issues have you overcome in government, state, municipal, federal, and military projects, and how did you do so?

Chang: Access to some BAS platforms requires specialized credentialing, which can make availability of even basic data more challenging to share for commissioning and measurement-and-verification (M&V) activities. This requires early coordination to identify the data points to be collected, how the data will be used, and the level of access required by different user groups.

Heiple: Many government agencies manage multiple facilities with diverse building automation systems. Agencies desire to operate and manage all facility assets via one central system. Recent advances in BAS integration platforms have been used to integrate diverse BAS controls system with different operating hardware and software into a central head-end BAS controls system that has a uniform user interface capable of monitoring and controlling multiple facilities. An additional challenge with integrating multiple facilities is to ensure uniform equipment and control-point naming across multiple facilities. Ideally, the government agency should provide a BAS-naming protocol that is implemented into their design standards and can be, in turn, implemented into construction document specifications by the design team and used to update existing building automation infrastructure.

CSE: Is your team using BIM in conjunction with the architects, trades, and owners to design a project? Describe an instance in which you’ve turned over the BIM model to the owner for long-term operations and maintenance (O&M) or M&V.

Heiple: We use BIM on almost every government project. BIM is crucial in the design phase of the project, especially on complex campuswide projects, and also is useful for building-performance analysis purposes. The BIM is typically provided to the contractor, who further develops the model as a coordination tool across disciplines. We also have provided an "as-built" BIM for O&M use by the owner. However, because of building owners’ lack of access to and experience with BIM software, I believe that it will be difficult for them to use the model for O&M purposes. Recently, I was a part of an interesting BIM discussion with the U.S. Department of State.

They are currently developing a BIM system that will manage hundreds of properties worldwide. It is currently an Excel-based database for building information management that operates without BIM software used in design, although it can receive information from these platforms. This is an effective BIM application for the owner because it’s focus is data management that can be used by the owner and not on BIM software applications. I believe this is the future for successful BIM application for owners in public and private sectors.