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Close-up: Capt. Keith Hamilton

NAVFAC CO finds 'treasure' in military-business relationship

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Under the guidance of Capt. Keith Hamilton, the Navy aims to collaborate with civilian business and encourage communication among the various entities to achieve common goals and produce a better final product.

"One of the things I see here in San Diego that I would tell you is a unique jewel -- a treasure -- is that the relationship between the military community and the broader San Diego community is just phenomenal, and the support is just phenomenal," said Hamilton, commanding officer of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Southwest. "We find the same is true in the contracting community."

Hamilton said there is a relatively new and unique relationship between the Navy and the contracting community. A decade or two ago, he said, the two groups were more competitors than partners. But the culture changed.

"Today, we work as a partnership, we define common objectives, we work together to figure out how to meet those common objectives," he said. "And, boy, it makes all the difference in the world. It makes a difference in the quality of the product delivered at the end of the process, it makes a difference in cost to the Navy, as well as the profit to the contractor. It's a win-win."

That partnership culture proved to be even more valuable as the workload at NAVFAC Southwest significantly increased in recent years. And in the past year, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided nearly $1 billion in funding for even more projects in the area.

"If you look at our workload starting at 2002 up to 2007, we averaged up to $400 million a year in military construction," Hamilton said. "Today, our MILCON program is about $2.5 billion, so about six times what our historical average had been."

Add to it the public works, environmental and planning efforts, and the workload increased to just over $3 billion this year, he said.

Hamilton's command relies on contractors -- many of whom found themselves in the midst of a recession and without much work -- to complete its jobs. And they bank on the partnering culture to keep everyone on the same page.

Partnering sessions bring together the people who will be working on a jobsite before work begins to establish relationships at the highest leadership levels, Hamilton said. It is a policy pulled from the civilian side that has served the Navy well, he said.

"You would identify what are the common objectives, what are the objectives that the contractor brings to the table, the objectives the navy brings to the table, the objectives the customer, the end user of the facility, is bring to the table," he said. "And then you figure out how do we work together as a team to meet those objectives, and you'd commit to that. That commitment lived through the duration of the project."

Hamilton also has used the partnerships with industry to improve the safety of everyone on the jobsite.

He is responsible for the roughly 3,600 civilians and military personnel that conduct maintenance, repairs and construction projects at Navy and Marine Corps facilities in the six-state Southwest region. Contractors augment the workforce, and often work side-by-side with the Navy employees.

For Hamilton, their safety is a top priority. In fact, it is one of his five goals for the command to care for his people, which includes improving their safety.

To accomplish that goal, industry and Navy leaders come together quarterly to share their experiences and provide tips for improving safety across the board.

"And the amazing thing is ... what we get is, not only have we created an environment where contractors are willing to discuss these issues -- and there's a real tendency to not want to discuss that in a room full of your competitors -- but they're willing to discuss it because they know it's for the overall good of the people involved," he said. "It's a harm-free environment.

"And what we're getting is best practices of hundreds of contractors. We're not spreading those seeds across all the contractors who work for us, and so we're seeing safety performance rise and safety mishaps fall off. And that's very rewarding to see that happen."

The partnerships are a welcome advantage in San Diego. But the recent recession also has provided NAVFAC San Diego with a new set of challenges and advantages.

The command has a large amount of work that must be put out to bid in a timely manner. And with many construction firms in search of work to keep them afloat until non-military construction picks back up, there is no shortage of bidders.

"The contracting community is obviously very hungry for work," Hamilton said. "Every time we go talk to folks about our program, the rooms are packed with people interested in what projects are coming up."

Now, more than ever, the competition for these construction contracts is intense. Hamilton said he receives an incredible number of proposals for projects.

"In fact, it makes our job very difficult because we have a lot of really good proposals to evaluate," he said. "We're in a great position because we are truly able to choose from the best of the best in the proposals we're getting right now.

"It's a great place to be."

The projects under way and recently completed are unlike anything Hamilton said he could have dreamed about in the past. Contractors are delivering high-quality products within budget and on time or early.

But it's not just the projects that impress Hamilton. His staff also has risen to some tough challenges, he said, and the final product would not be possible without them.

"They've taken a look at what really would not be possible -- to take that jump in workload and do it with the human resource we have would not be possible using our conventional techniques," he said. "And so they were able to come up with innovative ways to do the contracts, ways to structure the acquisition program, ways to simplify, streamline, budget things that allow us to do that. It would not have been possible without their innovation and hard work."

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