Despite dust, heat, tight deadlines and some remote, rural project locations, Albuquerque District’s El Paso Resident Office remains committed to Building Strong and strengthening the nation in the southern part of the District.
The resident office is located in El Paso, Texas, near Fort Bliss. El Paso was recently ranked as the safest city with more than 500,000 in population in the United States despite its close proximity to Juarez, Mexico, which has faced an increase in drug-war-related violence since 2006.
Originally, the office only handled projects in close proximity to El Paso and Fort Bliss. Now, the office has expanded geographically and has projects from Lordsburg, N.M., near the New Mexico-Arizona border, to Presidio, Texas.
Like the rest of the District, the city of El Paso has experienced steady growth during the past 75 years. With a population of a little more than 100,000 in 1930, the city more than doubled by 1960 and doubled again to more than 500,000 in 1990. Currently, the city population exceeds 750,000.
The El Paso office reflects this growth. Office Resident Engineer Ray Macias said he joined a staff of two others when he started there in 1990. Now there are 11 Corps employees there.
Growth is also seen in the office’s budget. Macias said that prior to beginning the border fence project, the office’s budget was about $3 million a year. It increased to $350 million for the fence and is currently at $120 million in scheduled placement.
Role of the Office
Each resident office has the vital role of ensuring the District’s mission is executed successfully by overseeing quality assurance and contract administration in its area of responsibility.
Contract administration includes a variety of work including payment to the contractor for worked performed in accordance with the contract provisions, modifying the contract as needed to accommodate necessary changes, differing site conditions, review of the adequacy of the contractor’s schedules and contract closeout.
The office’s resident engineer oversees contract administration with the support of engineer technicians.
The District’s Chief of Construction, Lou Askew, said, “These functions can be effectively performed only by personnel located close to the project site.”
Each resident office in the District has an assigned Administrative Contracting Officer who has the authority to execute changes within the authority of their warrant. Macias is the ACO for the El Paso office and has authority up to $100,000 for each change.
Askew added the District office plays a supporting role offering special skills through the Construction Contracts and the Quality Assurance sections of the Construction Branch. These two sections provide support beyond the technical or contractual capacity of the District’s resident offices.
The District’s history in Southern New Mexico and far West Texas goes back to the early years of World War II when, in 1942, the District was given charge of military construction at Fort Bliss, the largest Army base in the country at the time.
While military construction slowed significantly with the end of World War II, the ensuing Cold War guaranteed military construction was still necessary. One such project was the District’s work on the El Paso Intelligence Center at Fort Bliss in the waning years of the Cold War.
However, military construction was no longer the District’s main focus in the latter half of the 20th century. Civil works, specifically flood control, became the mainstay of the District’s work at that point.
The Resident Office in El Paso was established in the late 1960s and worked with stakeholders and customers on numerous flood control projects including projects in the Northwest, Central and Southeast areas of El Paso which are still in use. Over the years, flood control projects were also done in other cities in the resident office’s area of responsibility, including levee work in Presidio, Texas. The office also oversaw the construction of housing for Border Patrol agents in Fabens, Texas and flood control projects in Las Cruces and southern New Mexico.
One of the ripple effects of the September 11 attacks was a renewed focus on border security. The Corps was called upon to deliver when federal legislation authorizing the border fence was passed in 2006.
The project was full of challenges, including a tight timeline for fence construction. Construction started in June 2008, and the primary fence had to be completed by Jan. 19, 2009.
The project not only had time constraints, but those who worked on it said there were other challenges. One was the project’s political controversy. Another was the remote location of sections of the project.
Despite these and other challenges, the El Paso Office oversaw the successful, on-time construction of approximately 140 miles of fence in New Mexico and Texas at a cost of $355 million. And the project hasn’t stopped completely. The office is getting ready to award two more (smaller) portions of the fence.
While the office was working on the fence, additional growth came from an acceleration of projects through the Interagency and International Services program.
Through the IIS program, the Corps provides engineering and construction services, environmental restoration and management services, research and development assistance, management of water and land related natural resources, relief and recovery work and other management and technical services to non-Department of Defense federal agencies, state and local governments, tribal nations, private U.S. firms, international organizations and foreign governments.
Most IIS work is funded on a reimbursable basis.
The office’s biggest IIS customers have been two agencies within the Department of Homeland Security, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the United States Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol.
In the past decade, the El Paso office worked on housing for Border Patrol agents in Presidio, Texas and has upgraded facilities and built dormitories, an infirmary and a laundry for ICE.
One of the bigger projects was the construction of a 49,000 square foot Border Patrol station in El Paso. Soon after the grand opening of the El Paso station in August 2009, work was completed on a 29,000 square foot, $16.2 million Border Patrol station in Fort Hancock, Texas. The ribbon-cutting was held in December 2009.
While construction on these two stations was wrapping up, the groundbreaking ceremony for a new $25 million Border Patrol station in Lordsburg, N.M., was held Dec. 6, 2010. Plans are being made for a groundbreaking ceremony for an approximately $15 million Border Patrol Station in Fabens, Texas, in the spring of 2011. A third, $13 million Border Patrol station in Presidio, Texas, is in the design stage.
Starting in 2005, Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) has brought large changes to the military.
BRAC is the process used by the Defense Department to restructure military installations so they are more efficient and effective in supporting the nation’s military forces.
As a result of BRAC, Fort Bliss will have approximately 20,000 more soldiers and their families by 2011.
This increase in personnel heightened the need for new and upgraded infrastructure on post.
Officially the Corps’ Fort Worth District handles military construction at Fort Bliss. However, with the unprecedented construction requirements from BRAC, six Corps’ Districts stepped in to lend a hand. Albuquerque District joined the Sacramento, Little Rock, Galveston, Tulsa and Fort Worth districts on the $2.6 billion Fort Bliss expansion.
Albuquerque’s task was to provide project management support for the Company Operations Facilities on post.
Civil Works Projects
The El Paso office also continues to provide support for Civil Works projects in the Southwest. The Corps is constructing a million-gallon water tank in Jal, N.M., as part of the community’s potable water system.
Additionally, the office is working to put in a waste water system on Las Cruces’ West Mesa. This project will also support the upcoming Las Cruces Army Reserve Center being overseen by the El Paso Resident Office.
The past decade has been a period of transition for the entire District, and the El Paso Resident Office has been no exception. Exponential growth has pushed the office to overcome numerous challenges, yet the office has consistently produced quality, on-time product delivery.
Work in the IIS program will continue, with the Department of Homeland Security remaining one of the biggest customers.
Plans are underway for two large Special Operation Groups projects totaling $5 million, to be located on Fort Bliss. Additionally, the Resident Office is involved in numerous smaller projects for DHS and other agencies at various stages of development.