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What Does It Take To Successfully Work On Government Projects

Parker Brown Chief Financial Officer John Parker next to a DMV office the company worked on

Since its inception in 1994, Bisnow partner Parker Brown has been successfully completing government work throughout the West Coast. The firm recently built a high-tech 35k SF office for the DMV (above left). We sat down with company co-founder John Parker (above right) to hear his thoughts on how to successfully handle the unique challenges of government work.

Bisnow: What do you like about government work?

John Parker: Whatever your political views of it, there’s no denying that government's a fast-growing sector of our economy. There are more agencies involved in regulation and enforcement of our federal, state and local laws. Those agencies need space to operate.

In addition to new agencies and jobs, many agencies are shifting responsibilities. A lot of them are realigning and shifting resources. This creates a lot of need for new office space and the related tenant improvements.

Government's always changing and usually expanding. It's not quite what you would call “recession proof,” but it's close.

Bisnow: What's it like working for the government? Are there any special challenges?

John: It helps to bring doughnuts to the meeting, and good, strong coffee. Seriously, in most cases, we work for a landlord or building owner. The government office is a tenant and we're working through the landlord. But the government is pretty much the same as any other client. They want the job done well and quickly.

The other important thing about government work is security. Unfortunately, we live in a time when many people get angry with the government and take out their anger in the wrong way. So we're very conscious of security for the workers when we put a remodel or a new building together.

Bisnow: With all the government agencies and expansion you mentioned, have you had any particularly tough jobs?

John: California passed a law making all people (including those here illegally) eligible for an identification card. We had a job for the Department of Motor Vehicles to take a former grocery store and turn it into a DMV office that would operate at lightning speed. They were expecting such an influx of people seeking these ID cards and driver’s licenses. We had 90 days to do the job and our team turned on all the cylinders—we got the job done in 75 days and were awarded a bonus.

Bisnow: What advice do you have for people who would like to work with government agencies?

John: Patience. Practice patience. You’ve heard the old phrase about the Army: “Hurry up and wait.” Sometimes that happens on government jobs. You get to a certain point and then you need approvals and you have to wait for them. Then you get the approvals and you need to pick it up again quickly. You have to have the right temperament for these jobs. Our project managers do.

Bisnow: How do you handle the infamous government "red tape"?

John: There's some of that, but you know that going in. You build it into your schedule.

Bisnow: Does the government pay well?

John: The government knows it has to pay competitively, but it's guarding the taxpayers’ dollars. But guess what? We're taxpayers too. So we want to do a good job and get paid fairly, but we also know we're working for the local government in the communities where we live. So that gives us perspective.

Bisnow: What other challenges are there?

John: Many times we are working on government office reorganizations. It’s what’s called “an occupied remodel.” People will be working on one side of the hallway while we are remodeling the other side. We have to respect that. We have to clearly communicate how we're going to do the work so people know what to expect.

Bisnow: What is the most important government contract you've handled?

John: We did some work for the Federal Reserve in Los Angeles. They are highly concerned with security, and it was a great job.

Bisnow: Do you have any final thoughts or pieces of advice?

John: Government work is not a walk in the park, but we must do it well because we get a lot of repeat business.

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