TOKYO, Japan -- Japan Engineer District celebrated Engineer Week differently this year. This year, along with United States Forces Japan and the Japanese Ministry of Defense, hosted the Bilateral Senior Engineer Conference (BSEC) February 20-22 at the New Sanno Hotel, Tokyo, Japan.
"This conference has a long history in Japan and this is the first time it has been held since 2012," said Col. Thomas J. Verell, Jr., Japan Engineer District commander. "The BSEC brought together engineers and senior leaders from across the Pacific region, the continental U.S. and our Japanese Alliance partners. This year marked the 20th conference and the first time ever as a bilateral event."
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Deputy Commanding General Maj. Gen. Michael C. Wehr opened the conference with remarks of optimism and a challenge for all the attendees.
"This is the start of a process that could lead to meaningful changes in facility construction in Japan," said Wehr. "I encourage you to strengthen relationships with your peers, build new relationships with partners, and work together to develop a common understanding of the policies and issues impacting the execution of your construction programs."
The theme of the conference was "The Alliance Approach to Facilities Construction in Japan".
"The Bilateral Senior Engineer Conference was a unique opportunity for engineers from the U.S. Government and the Government of Japan to come together and find mutually supporting ways to build vital military facilities in a constrained construction market," said Mark C. Jones, JED Engineering Division chief.
The BSEC lasted for three days with multiple strategic topics discussed. The first day and a half were filled with various presentations including regional situation and service agency construction program briefs. These foundational briefs were followed by expert panel discussions on local market construction management and new approaches to programming and greater use of Japanese construction standards.
"The volume of construction in Japan has doubled in five years because of the preparation for the upcoming (Tokyo) Summer Olympics, Government of Japan infrastructure revitalization, Defense Policy Review Initiative projects and the U.S. military's renewed focus on the 'Pivot to the Pacific'," said Verell. "This coupled with declining construction capacity has created intense competition in the Japanese construction market. This competition requires new approaches to Alliance programs management and execution, and the BSEC is a critical first step."
The rest of the conference was spent in breakout sessions focusing on the specific challenges and actions to address the issues identified in the panel discussions and the way forward.
"Attendees of the BSEC expanded their strategic understanding of the U.S. Government and Government of Japan facility construction programs throughout Japan, the numerous project stakeholders, the funding and contracting difficulties, and some of the efforts to overcome those challenges," said Mark A. Wentink, Department of Defense Education Activity Facilities Division -- Pacific chief. "I was able to join several bilateral working groups and propose or learn about possible improvements to our joint facilities construction programs."
On the final day, the BSEC culminated with each of the breakout session facilitators briefing the senior leaders and attendees on the strategies, actions and timeline for improving construction programs throughout Japan.
"One of the proponent themes of the BSEC is U.S. construction projects are the least attractive of all construction projects in Japan," said Verell. "The Alliance Programmatic view concept will bilaterally strive to find ways to entice more Japanese contractors to bid on U.S. projects by reducing the differences between host nation and U.S. funded construction."
"The discussions concerning Japanese equivalent alternatives and contracting options to enhance biddability were very encouraging," said Jones. "The action plans that were developed should yield benefits in both the short term and long term. It was very helpful to have both command and U.S. component representatives in attendance to express their viewpoints directly."
The products developed at the conference will be presented to senior strategic leaders during future bilateral engagements in Washington D.C. and Hawaii. Many of the potential initiatives developed require high-level involvement and decisions.
"The path forward developed by you and your peers will be briefed to senior leaders in Washington D.C., during the first week of March," said Wehr. "I look forward to seeing our MOD and JED stakeholders as they brief your recommendations and strategies to senior executives and decision makers at USACE Headquarters and the Pentagon."
Senior strategic leaders attending the conference included Wehr, United States Forces Japan Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Christopher J. Mahoney, Director General for Facilities and Installations, Minister's Secretariat, Ministry of Defense, Government of Japan Hirotomo Hirai, U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph M. Young, USACE Pacific Ocean Division Commander Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Tickner, Director General, Bureau of Defense Buildup and Planning, Ministry of Defense, Government of Japan Atsuo Suzuki, Air Force Civil Engineer Center Director Terry Edwards and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific Executive Director Craig Whelden.
The time dedicated by these leaders at the conference underscored the importance of this conference.
"The remarks of Maj. Gen. Wehr and Brig. Gen. Mahoney emphasized the relationships between the U.S. Government and Government of Japan are the foundation to success," said Jones. "As the initiative action plans from the conference go forward into execution, those relationships will continue to grow as we find mutual solutions."
All who attended recognized the value of this conference.
"The Bilateral Senior Engineer Conference is an important annual workshop that I believe is essential for our continued successful execution of U.S. and Host Nation funded construction programs," said Wentink. It is also a wonderful cultural experience for U.S. government participants to meet and discuss with our Government of Japan counterparts on how we can improve the way we do business and produce better facilities as an Alliance."
"The Bilateral Senior Engineer Conference was of great value in not only working towards solutions for facility construction in a constrained construction environment, but also in creating new relationships and strengthening existing ones," said Jones.
"I know that you have made good use of your time here," said Wehr. "The people you've met this week and the friendships you've strengthened will be key as you come together to overcome your professional challenges. We are relying on each of your organizations to analyze your mission, develop your courses of action, and analyze your (course of actions). Your remarks will be the foundation for the solutions that we form in upcoming months and years. The challenges you've identified in your briefings and panel discussions will only be solved by through a commitment from your agencies to mutually beneficial outcomes."