Accurate cost estimating crucial to credibility, project success

  • Published
  • By Debbie Aragon
  • AFCEC Public Affairs
Recent studies show the Air Force’s civil engineering cost estimate accuracy is declining, directly impacting which projects do or don’t get funding as well as the service’s credibility among its peers.

According to a 2014 internal document, more than 40 percent of Air Force military construction programming estimates fell outside of the desired accuracy range of 100 to 125 percent of actual cost.

Additionally, the 2015 Department of the Air Force Cost Estimating Assessment project time and cost study noted a lack of cost estimating skill sets among those conducting estimates; no uniform, systematic approach to cost-estimating work; and no process for quality review of estimates. 

To remedy this, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, in coordination with the service’s office of civil engineers, has an aggressive plan to certify engineers at all levels on how to properly determine costs associated with MILCON projects, said Scott Ward, Air Force Life Cycle Cost Engineering subject matter expert.

The Cost Estimating Improvement Plan kicks off early next year with satellite training for those in the continental United States. That will be followed by roadshows for Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Air Forces in Europe. AFCEC is also looking at the possibility of hosting an in-residence course for CONUS CEs.

Central to the plan is a series of courses developed by the Air Force Institute of Technology and a handful of CEs from the field, and approved by AFCEC and CE’s Facility Management Policy Group. The courses, which will be mandatory by October 2018, include the fundamentals of cost engineering and advanced applications of the Parametric Cost Engineering System, or PACES, geared toward intermediate to experienced users.

“The courses, by design, are difficult, requiring 2-3 hours of accounted homework each night and a final exam,” said Ward. 

“Although some may feel they don’t need the certification right now because they aren’t conducting that mission at their current installations, their situation could change easily with a position or installation move,” Ward explained. 

Additionally, certification is invaluable, to an Air Force civil engineer no matter his or her specific mission area, as it grants them access to a portal with many other important CE tools to help them accomplish their missions, he added.

“Currently, there isn’t a program in place for the development of cost engineering professionals within the Air Force,” said Ken Gray, AFCEC’s Civil Engineering Branch chief. “Through CEIP, we’ll be developing a cadre of cost engineering professionals at each installation.”

“A program that doesn’t accurately estimate CE work is damaging to the Air Force in various ways,” Ward emphasized. “Overestimating takes funds away from other projects that could have benefitted from those excess funds. Underestimating hinders the timely completion of projects and can ruin our credibility. It could also mean we have to request more money from Congress that may or may not authorize it.”

Through CEIP, the Air Force expects to have a formalized, accurate cost estimate program in place with a fully trained workforce to conduct it within three years.

“In addition to the initial certification of our engineers, we’re including more cost estimate instruction in the AFIT programming and civil engineer basic courses; incorporating formal training requirements as part of the CE force development program; and will conduct program lifecycle evaluations in 3-5 years to determine the success of the plan and make improvements as necessary,” Ward said.

For more information on the training and where it’s offered, please visit the AFIT website here.