Acuity International Awarded U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cost Engineering MATOC

RESTON, VA. – March 2, 2023 – Acuity International, a managed service provider focused on delivering customized, business-ready solutions, today announced it was awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) Architect-Engineer (AE) Cost Engineering Multiple Award Task Order Contract (MATOC) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla, Washington.

Acuity is one of four firms awarded the shared capacity of $226 million MATOC. Acuity will provide Cost Engineering services including cost estimating, scheduling, risk analysis and project controls.

“Acuity is poised to expand our value to the Army Corps of Engineers in the area of cost engineering, which we have been successfully partnering with them since 1989,” said Tony Corbi, CEO of Acuity International.

The work will primarily support the Department of Defense, Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration, as well as mission partners such as the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Department of Veterans Affairs, and General Services Administration, among others.

About Acuity International

Acuity International provides process and technology-based critical services to global government and commercial enterprises. As global problem-solvers, Acuity implements purpose-built frameworks, repeatable processes, and enabling technology to accelerate time-to-value. Acuity International is comprised of three business practices: 1) Care to drive a healthy and compliant workforce; 2) Build for providing cost engineering and construction management services and delivering munitions response/demilitarization services; 3) and Secure delivering mobile and static security services, and end-to-end critical facility management. For more information, visit:

Acuity International is headquartered in Reston, Virginia, and employs approximately 3,200 people in more than 30 countries.

How Construction Partnering Can Save Time and Money During Change Order Estimation

By Mike Norman, Senior Cost Engineer

Government construction projects are frequently subject to amendments to the original contract. When this occurs, the contractor must prepare a change order and quote the price for the extra work.

But too often, change order proposals lack clarity and the amended scope is not well quantified. As a result, establishing a mutual understanding of scope between the owner and contractor can be challenging. The result is an overblown schedule and cost overruns.

However, these scenarios can be remediated. The change order pricing process can be successfully streamlined with construction partnering, which creates greater efficiencies and helps organizations save time and money.

The issue: Efficient change order pricing

Before I address what construction partnering is, and why it’s important, let’s talk a little about the current processes it’s meant to replace.

Scoping out a change order requires a complete set of project documents that carefully define the new scope of work and its impact on the construction schedule and performance. Unfortunately, this often overlooked detail has considerable impact.

When an owner orders a change to the contract – yet fails to provide extensive quantitative information (let’s call this “qualitative” scope) – it can take more time to resolve scope issues and develop the estimate. The lack of information may lead to many questions among estimators. To find answers, they will formally request more information from all bidders. This exchange takes time and leads to increased costs, delays, and inefficiencies.

The challenge for federal owners

This process is especially burdensome when government construction projects are at stake. Consider a scenario where the building owner is a public agency. In many cases, policy and/or law require these agencies to develop independent estimates of change order costs. In the federal government, and agency rules also require that the owner generates an Independent Government Cost Estimate (IGCE).

When defining the scope of a “qualitative” change, government estimators must inevitably make scope assumptions. This second-guessing can have a significant impact on the estimate.

But a contractor must also make assumptions. This begs the question: “Will the contractor’s assumptions match those made by the government?” Based on my experience, the answer is “no.”

Government estimators have an additional task. They must analyze each contractor’s estimate, compare it to the IGCE, and attempt to resolve the differences created by differing scope assumptions – a process that can take hundreds of hours. Meanwhile, contractors (and subcontractors) spend equal time developing a price for the work. Negotiating a settlement then adds more time to the process – the further apart the estimates, the more hours spent negotiating.

It is often the norm for this to happen, which can result in the failure to negotiate an agreed price, the issuing of a unilateral change order, or the reissue of the proposed change.

The solution: Construction partnering

What is Construction Partnering?

Contractors and government agencies can overcome these roadblocks and frustrations by implementing a limited form of construction partnering. One in which the stated intent is to develop a common understanding of scope and assumptions.

Construction partnering is a structured process that brings together project stakeholders to set goals, develop processes, discuss and resolve scope issues, and improve project outcomes. Successful partnering can reduce project costs, expedite schedules, reduce changes and claims, and improve communication.

Construction partnering achieves this by furnishing an environment conducive to the free exchange of information and open communication. It involves a single, facilitated meeting between parties. It also minimizes the “gotcha” attitude sometimes displayed by owners and contractors that arises from concealing information.

Because decision makers (notably subject matter experts and contracting officers) are in the same room, they can propose real-time solutions that reduce the government’s cost to analyze and resolve differences between the IGCE and the contractor’s scoping and assumptions.

Construction partnering and change order scope

To amplify the effectiveness of this meeting and achieve accord, several elements are key.

First, the agency and the contractor must do their homework. Prior to the meeting, each entity should develop and exchange their understanding of the scope. At a minimum, this must include the following:

  • A summary description of the presumed scope
  • A list of scope issues prioritized by importance
  • A list of assumptions

Next, both parties must review each other’s submissions and prepare to discuss the various issues in detail.

The meeting should be governed by a set agenda that has been reviewed and accepted by the agency and the contractor. During the interaction, both parties must be prepared to focus on resolving differences so they can proceed with pricing based on mutual understanding.

Overcoming objections

It’s not unheard of for government contracting officers to express fear that a collaborative approach to the change order process crosses the line separating “what is scope” from “dictating the contractor’s method of executing work.” However, a properly facilitated construction partnering meeting that includes contracting officers should alleviate that concern – while providing a forum for the parties to explain their respective approaches.

As a guideline, a partnered meeting could resemble the following agenda:

  • 8:00 am: The facilitator opens the meeting. Each participant introduces themselves and their role in the process.
  • 8:30 am: The facilitator sets forth the meeting logistics and rules (e.g., only one speaker at a time).
  • 8:45 am: Leaders are asked to state their respective goals and share scope understandings and assumptions that the government and contractor agree upon.
  • 9:00 am: To break the ice and set up an atmosphere of trust and openness, the facilitator guides the group through an exercise…
  • 9:15 am: As a group or assembled in subgroups, participants address the issues in order of importance (the “homework” discussed above will include ranking the issues in order of importance). Subgroups can be formed in a variety of ways. Ideally, the most knowledgeable SMEs are included in the appropriate subgroup.
  • 12:00 pm: The group or subgroups report their results. The facilitator will issue a written report memorializing the results.


Ordinarily, a construction partnering meeting will not resolve all issues, and any outstanding issues and resolution timeline should be noted. However, this is not acceptable. For estimators to begin work on a change order, it is crucial that all issues are resolved during the change order scoping meeting. If they are not, the SMEs and contracting officer should try and reach consensus.

Improved communication, improved strategy, and issue resolution

Is four hours sufficient time to yield efficiency in the case of “qualitative” change? Even if the meeting is extended to eight hours, I argue in the affirmative.

For instance, in the case of a proposed change with a seven- or eight-figure value, an agency might spend hundreds of hours generating a Class 3 IGCE and just as much time again analyzing the contractor’s proposal.

To resolve this issue, a partnership meeting might include ten to twelve stakeholders – this equates to 48 hours of cumulative people time. Even this short amount of time can generate labor savings far exceeding 48 hours. Such a meeting also saves money, while simultaneously building trust between parties who have long resisted coming to the table.

Construction partnering is a win-win for all involved.


About the Author

Mike Norman is a Senior Cost Engineer currently leading a team of estimating professionals completing cost, schedule, and risk analysis tasks for the Department of Energy.

Connect with Mike at

How Construction Estimators Can Leverage Data and Technology for Accurate Estimate Costs 

Estimating Costs Is Challenging – But Crucial to Business Success. Here’s How to Get It Right 

By Frank Richardson and Chris Thomson 

Estimating Construction Projects is a Science and an Art

Experienced construction estimators know that estimating large and complex commercial projects is both a science and an art. That’s true whether your organization is the contractor planning the project or the owner of the built asset. And it’s especially true when estimating labor costs. 

The science of estimating is based on data: historical numbers from previous projects, current numbers based on trends, forward-looking numbers drawn from external sources. 

The art of estimating relies on experience. After you estimate enough projects, you gain a feel for when an estimate feels high or low. 

Trouble is, art isn’t consistent or repeatable. You might nail an estimate today but badly miss tomorrow. That fact can have negative repercussions for your business. 

But what if you could transform estimating so that it’s less art and more science? With the right data and technology, you can. In the process, you can make labor cost estimating a competitive differentiator and a driver of business success.  

Why You Need Accurate Construction Estimates Now

U.S. construction activity is forecast to ramp up in 2022, especially as COVID-19 wanes and organizations return to the office. Construction costs will likewise continue to rise by up to 7% over the next year. 

Labor costs climbed 4.5% in 2021, largely due to scarcity of qualified workers. They’re expected to grow at a similar pace in 2022. President Biden’s Executive Order on Use of Project Labor Agreements could drive further increases for large federal projects. 

These trends highlight the importance of accuracy in labor cost estimates. After all, in the US, labor typically accounts for up to 40% of a project’s budget. 

The Threats of Underbidding and Overbidding

The biggest risk in estimating is underbidding or overbidding. Underbid, and your company will realize slimmer margins or even lose money. Overbid, and you risk missing out on the business altogether. Either way, a serious miscalculation could put your enterprise in jeopardy. 

Of course, contractors and owners have different mindsets when it comes to under- and overestimating. Owners want estimates on the higher side, especially for government contracts. That’s because if bids are substantially higher than their own estimate, they need to consider narrowing the project scope. 

Contractors want estimates to be low enough to win the contract but high enough to earn a profit. In a lean market, they might bid lower than they normally would, accepting that they’ll earn a lower profit. That will let them maintain cashflow and retain their workforce, avoiding business interruptions and layoffs. 

Understanding Knowns and Unknowns

Why are under- and overbidding so common in estimating costs? Because in estimating, there are knowns and unknowns. And labor involves a lot of unknowns. 

Equipment and material costs are almost always easier to predict. Yes, pricing and availability of equipment and fuel can vary. But whether you own, lease or rent, equipment essentially costs what it costs. 

Likewise, pricing for materials such as timber and steel can be unpredictable – especially as tariffs are implemented or repealed. But overall, material costs what it costs. 

Labor isn’t so cut and dried. Sure, there’s a going rate for particular talent in a particular market, and union labor rates aren’t negotiable. But many factors that affect labor costs are unknowns. Most notable is productivity, which can have a huge impact on the cost of labor. 

Productivity is Affected by Three Key Factors:

  1. Location. In an urban environment, it takes more time to move equipment and materials than in a suburban or rural environment. In a remote area, in contrast, you might not have access to local labor, and bringing in outside labor can take time. 
  2. Congestion, especially in interior spaces. If the project requires a lot of workers to be onsite simultaneously, they can get in one another’s way, slowing things down. 
  3. Security. Getting workers into and out of a high-security site on a daily basis takes time. And security protocols can slow the work itself. 

How to Use Data and Technology for Accurate Cost Estimates

The good news is that the right data and technology can help you turn unknowns into knowns – and get control of material, equipment, and labor costs. 

Start with a trusted advisor that has extensive experience in estimating labor costs. It’s crucial to have valid baseline numbers that are built on real-world scenarios and that factor in both historical data and current trends. A qualified consultant can provide reliable baselines that break down costs by prep-work time, direct-work time, and nonproductive time. 

Then, effective software can equip you with purpose-built tools to help make consistent, accurate cost estimates. The solution should allow you to work with many thousands of unit line items that are researched, validated, and routinely updated by knowledgeable cost engineers. 

A cloud-based platform can give key stakeholders access to projects from any location and on any device. A dashboard view should enable you to review estimates through a single interface, with a real-time view of estimate status. Collaboration features should allow multiple estimators to work together and co-edit as needed. 

As the volume of construction projects increases, and as construction costs remain volatile, cost estimating will be a challenge. But with the right data and technology, estimating labor costs can become consistent and accurate – and help contribute to business success. 

CostCenter for Construction Estimates

CostCenter’s cost estimating tools give you the power to create detailed estimates backed by accurate construction cost book data. If you’re looking to utilize intuitive estimating software to place better bids, visit



About the Authors 

Frank Richardson is the Senior Cost Analyst for CostCenter’s database of constructive tasks and assemblies. CostCenter is an advanced facility lifecycle solution that empowers professionals with cost estimating tools and current cost data. 

Chris Thomson is a Senior Professional Engineer for Acuity Engineering and Consulting.  By applying sustainable business practices, proven project management techniques, and effective cost analysis and engineering principles, Acuity Engineering and Consulting helps our clients manage costs, risks, and schedules. 

The Future of Pre-Construction Parametric Estimating for Retail Chains and Franchises

Before any retail chain or restaurant franchise developer moves forward with a new construction project, they must first conduct a cost feasibility assessment. But it’s a tricky process. Cost fluctuations, supply/demand issues, labor shortages, and local construction regulations can all introduce uncertainty and risk into the estimation process.

To introduce reliable insights into pre-construction estimates, cost estimators have increasingly turned to parametric estimating.

What is Parametric Estimating?

Parametric estimating helps developers determine the cost of a new project by drawing on the relationships between historical and statistical data to deliver high-level estimations quickly and with different levels of granularity.

Retail chains and franchises use parametric estimating during the pre-construction phase to develop comprehensive conceptual models to understand the budget, opportunity, and planning required. This is particularly critical for large, complex projects where cost confidence is critical during the pre-construction phase and best-guess estimates of old weren’t as informed or as accurate as they needed to be.

For instance, Publix Super Markets recently announced plans for its first store in Kentucky, with a grand opening in Louisville slated for late 2023. Before deciding whether to break ground on a project like this, developers typically establish a high-level estimate using parametric models based on actual project data from previous developments.

These conceptual models are also adjustable. As the parameters of a project change – such as the size of the building or the use of new construction materials – cost estimators can dynamically account for these variables and achieve confident cost projections.

Once the model is developed, it can be reused for similar projects and the quality of data is improved with each iteration.

How to Use Parametric Estimates to Resolve Construction Challenges

Even with these data-driven insights, market developments and fluctuations can throw a wrench in the works, potentially delaying budget approvals and bid solicitation process. For example, before the pandemic, if a contractor requested a price from a supplier, that estimate was good for six months – today, it may only be valid through the end of the day. As a result, cost estimators often reprice a project numerous times to accommodate unpredictable environments as well as client requirements.

Modern parametric models can help streamline this process. Not only do they allow estimators to create estimates faster than ever, they also provide the flexibility for users to change their inputs and run different scenarios – making it easier to anticipate and account for price fluctuations.

Check out this earlier blog from Acuity’s Frank Richardson. Frank shares some valuable tips on how building owners can control material costs from the outset and mitigate the impact of price fluctuations.

Another challenge that developers and owners face is finding ways to mitigate the disconnect between high-level parametric estimates during the conceptual stage and detailed cost assessments as the project matures. This is an area where Acuity International continues to innovate.

CostModeler is a breakthrough in the Acuity team’s development of a strategic vision to accelerate pre-construction productivity supported by big data and analytical insights. Through the parametric application, users can develop and adjust comprehensive conceptual models in the preliminary stages of any project to better understand the budget, opportunity, and planning.

As new project opportunities progress towards later stages, parametric models built within the new CostModeler tool can be converted to a comprehensive, detailed cost estimate with just a few clicks.

This puts up-to-date cost data into the hands of developers with full transparency into the source, quote date, and direct pricing for rapid decision making – a capability that has become more critical in today’s dynamic construction market.

The Future of Parametric Estimation

CostModeler is just the first step in our advanced roadmap for the pre-construction industry. It will soon be followed by what-if analysis, geo-mapping, the next phase of risk analysis, and forecasting.

Learn more about how parametric estimating advances facility lifecycle capabilities.

About the Author

Mark Clark, Senior Cost ConsultantMark Clark is a Senior Cost Consultant with over 30 years of experience managing commercial and residential projects. He is experienced in all phases of construction and renovation and is knowledgeable in compliance standards relating to all government regulations and codes. Mark has supported various large and small-scale projects in the private and public sectors.

Connect with Mark at