Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform
in the Digital Age

A Public/Private Partnership

505 Huntmar Park Drive, Suite 210, Herndon, VA 20170


Update Report on Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform in the Digital Age

June 1, 2004

Robert Wible
NCSBCS Executive Director and Alliance Secretary

SUMMARY – Enhancing Public Safety & Economic Competitiveness

Our nation's construction industry represents one of the largest segments of our economy. Over 70% of our national wealth is in buildings, and it stimulates the nation's economy and it shelters our people where they live, work and play. To help assure the economic viability of our nation and provide adequate public safety, the building regulatory system that oversees construction must be both effective and efficient.

The Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform in the Digital Age is a public-private partnership established in the summer of 2001 as the outcome of the National Forum on Building Smarter in the Digital Age held in Arlington, Virginia. The Forum brought together the construction, building regulatory, and information technology communities to explore the setting of an action agenda to enhance public safety and economic competitiveness by streamlining the nation's building regulatory process through the use of information technology.

To date 44 national organizations, governments, and educational institutions have joined the Alliance to support its adopted objective of enabling our construction industry to build "faster, better, safer, and at less cost." (Click for list of Alliance members and affiliates.)

In its third year of operation, the Alliance, with funding and in-kind services from its members, made major progress towards concluding Phase II of its three Phase initiative - the development of streamlining support materials which state and local governments can adopt and use to reduce the regulatory cost of construction. Those work products include the following:

(Note – Items with an asterisks (*) are included on this CD-ROM and can be accessed by clicking on the title.)

This report describes the above Alliance accomplishments, outlines the Alliance's work objectives for the remainder of 2004 and into 2005-2006, and information on how to become involved in the Alliance.


The Current Situation - The Vital Role of Construction in Our Nation

Over 44,000 jurisdictions adopt and enforce building codes in this nation, protecting and serving over 95% of our population and regulating our nation's $3 trillion domestic building construction industry. Together, the real estate and construction industry are the largest single component of our economy, representing 20% of the Gross Domestic Product and over 70% of our national wealth.

The two major targets of terrorist attacks on the United States have been our buildings – the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Overseas terrorists attack housing complexes and entertainment centers.

The Current Reality - The Need for Greater Efficiency and Coordination

"I have been told by firms in my state that if they miss one business cycle they are dead in today's marketplace." (1)

"To assure public safety and economic competitiveness of our nation, homeland security requires us to create interoperable government." (2)

Former Utah Governor Michael Leavitt at: (1) the NGA Winter Meeting in February

2000; and (2) the McGraw-Hill National Homeland Security Summit on May 15, 2003

"A major developer of high-rise residential structures has told us that a single day's delay in the county's building regulatory process costs his firm $100,000 in added costs. This is why we have streamlined our building regulatory system."

Sophie Zager, former Director, Office of Building Codes Services, Fairfax County, VA

Where they are effective and efficient, construction regulatory systems ensure public safety, affordability, quality, and disaster resistance of new and existing buildings. Where they are not efficient, regulatory systems increase costs, produce poor quality and poor performing buildings, making the private sector miss production cycles, creating barriers to effective approaches to secure buildings from manmade and natural disasters, and ultimately negatively impact the lives and livelihoods of all Americans. The insurance industry estimated that poor codes and codes enforcement, for example, contributed between 30 and 40% of the over $15.5 billion in insured losses in Florida from Hurricane Andrew.

Unfortunately, in the United States today far too many building owners, designers, builders, contractors, and citizens are faced with a confusing array of building regulations and inefficient code enforcement processes that cause: significant delays in construction time, lax code enforcement, and even hinder the ability of first responders to know how to effectively approach a building disaster site. Adding to such inefficiencies, most jurisdictions' building regulatory responsibilities are split (and are far too often ill coordinated) between different agencies including: building, fire, health, environmental, and energy departments.

Economic competitiveness and homeland security require us to find ways to cut across such stove-piped administrative entities. Homeland security in particular imposes new demands for interoperability of security and public safety information including as-built building designs, building evacuation plans, and coordinated mutual aid agreements between jurisdictions to provide first responder support to manmade as well as natural disasters.

To address these concerns, in the summer of 2001 representatives from 41 national organizations representing the construction and information technology communities and governmental agencies from all levels of government came together in Arlington, Virginia, to discuss these problems and developed an action agenda through which state and local governments could make greater use of information technology in their building regulatory processes.

To carry out that action agenda, a private-public partnership, the National Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform in the Digital Age, was formed at a meeting hosted by the National Governors Association and the National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards. At that meeting, the Alliance adopted as their mission statement: "Strengthening the public's safety and the nation's economic competitiveness by streamlining the building regulatory process through the use of information technology to enable the nation to build faster, better, safer and at less cost."


With funding and in-kind services from its members and an initial grant from the Construction and Buildings Subcommittee of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Alliance undertook Phase I of its action agenda, establishing work groups and developing initial streamlining materials.

Three work groups were organized and began operation in late 2001/early 2002. These included: A Steering Committee to provide oversight; a Technology Task Force to gather input from the information technology community; and a Planning and Coordinating Task Force comprised of federal, state and local government officials and charged with supporting the adoption and use of Alliance streamlining materials.

Initial work products developed by these groups included:

In addition to the above, in the summer of 2002, the Alliance was approached by the Fannie Mae Foundation and the National Association of Home Builders regarding the need for a separate work group to be formed to accelerate the development of streamlining materials that had a positive impact on the production of more affordable housing in the nation.

From that request, the Alliance established the Affordable Housing Task Force in late 2002. That new work group identified several work projects and helped secure funding for them. Those projects include the development of a cost/ benefit matrix to ascertain the savings being achieved by home builders who produced homes in jurisdictions that had streamlined their building regulatory process using information technology.

UPDATE ALLIANCE ACTIVITIES – Summer 2003 to Present: Interoperability, Affordable Housing, Surveys & Reports to Nation's Governors, Mayors & County Officials

Over the past year, with funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the

U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fannie Mae Foundation, American Institute of Architects, and Department of Energy and extensive in-kind service contributions from its members, the Alliance expanded the range and depth of the materials that enable jurisdictions to make greater use of information technology in their building regulatory processes. These efforts have fallen into the following project categories and comprise the bulk of the remainder of this report: interoperability; affordable housing; surveys and reports to governors, mayors and county administrators.

Work on Interoperability: The seamless exchange of information across regulatory functions and between levels of government.

In its efforts to identify and eliminate regulatory barriers to effective and efficient construction, the Alliance noted that less than 8% of our 44,000 jurisdictions make use of information technology in their building regulatory processes. Among the chief barriers to jurisdictions making greater use of IT in their programs are the costs associated with a lack of interoperability among the data compiled for different regulatory programs. Jurisdictions currently are unable to select the "best of breed" of software and hardware systems or to effectively share any data they gather in one part of their building regulatory system with other agencies within that jurisdiction and with other regulatory functions.

In the summer of 2003, the Alliance, with funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), initiated a project to address this barrier.

The Alliance Interoperability Project & September 24, 2003, Summit on Streamlining the Building Regulatory System Through Interoperability and Follow-Up Work Activities

Among a series of work products developed by the Alliance in 2001-2003 was a set of model procurement requirements for jurisdictions to use in their acquisition of hardware and software for their building regulatory processes. As that document was being developed, it was noted that the software industry was not yet at a stage where one of the requirements within the model could be a set of criteria or standards for interoperability.

In August 2003, NIST funded a work project with the Alliance (carried out by NCSBCS and FIATECH) to develop background materials and then assemble representatives from the nation's information technology, construction and building regulatory communities at a summit meeting. The objective of the Summit was to identify opportunities, challenges and potential solutions to bring about greater use of information technology in the building regulatory process by taking steps to facilitate the IT industry's production of interoperable hardware and software.

On September 24, 2003, 55 representatives from the above communities assembled at the Downtown Association in New York City and established a series of recommended actions that these groups would work together on to facilitate the development of an integrated interoperable building regulatory system for our nation. (See the Summit final report.) Those recommended actions and the current status of their implementation are as follows:

  1. The creation of an expanded core work group of jurisdictions that in March 2004 released for the software industry's review and consideration:

(These materials are available as attachments to the Alliance Report "Creating a State-of-the-Art Interoperable Building Regulatory System.")

2.    The creation of a venue for the software industry to come together to
       review and work on Alliance work products, provide input to government
       on actions that can facilitate greater use of IT in the building regulatory
       process, and work to develop an industry approach towards open source
       standards for interoperability:

(Visit the ITIA Subcommittee web page.)

Alliance Next Steps Towards Creation of a State-of-the-Art Integrated and Interoperable Building Regulatory System - April 2004 - 2008

In late March 2004, also under funding from NIST, the Alliance Secretariat produced the following two reports outlining the next steps that need to be taken to build upon the output from the New York City Summit and create the above state-of-the art system. These reports also are available on the NCSBCS website. The reports and some of the major next steps are as follows:

  1. Alliance Outreach Implementation Plan for Gaining Use by State and Local Governments of Updated Model Procurement Requirements
  2. Future Work To Develop Technologies and Requirements Needed to Further Advance the Development of a State-of-the-Art Integrated and Interoperable Building Regulatory System
  1. Immediate-Term Actions (May 2004 – August 2004)
    b.  Mid-Term Actions (September 2004 – June 2005)     c.   Long-Term Actions (July 2005 – December 2008)

Affordable Housing

Under funding from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Fannie Mae Foundation and NCSBCS, in early 2004 several Affordable Housing Task Force streamlining initiatives were undertaken by the Alliance. The first of these was an outreach effort by Fannie Mae in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area that brought the Alliance's Secretariat together with HUD's Director of the America's Affordable Housing Initiative, Bryant Applegate, to share successful regulatory streamlining initiatives with building officials from the Twin Cities.

Under funds from HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research, in late February the Alliance undertook three streamlining initiatives. The first involved the full development of a cost/benefit analysis matrix that homebuilders and building officials could use to document the savings that are achievable by building the exact same model of a home in two different locations in a state with a uniform statewide construction code. The matrix compiles the time and labor costs involved in moving that home through the regulatory system of a jurisdiction that has streamlined its building regulatory process using information technology (online permit processing, online plan submittals, field inspections using handheld devices, etc), versus the other jurisdiction that has not streamlined and relies on traditional non-I.T. methodologies.

The Alliance in early May developed the matrix and has tentatively identified homebuilders and jurisdictions in Virginia, California and Oregon where the actual demonstrations will take place later in the year.

Two other work tasks have been completed under HUD funding. One was a study that concluded it was feasible to include an interoperability statement within the Alliance's Model Procurement Requirements. (See earlier interoperability discussions.) The second was the drafting of award criteria for a series of proposed federally funded matching grants to states and localities to facilitate the streamlining of their regulatory processes using information technology.

This last area is connected to the Alliance's ongoing work agenda covered at the end of the previous section.

AIA/Alliance Survey of Jurisdictions' Use of Hardware & Software for Online Plan Submittals and Tracking

With funding from the American Institute of Architects, in early May the Alliance posted on a hosted website a detailed survey for building officials and the information technology industry to complete to acquire base information on the current and planned use of hardware and software to receive and track (and review) building plans electronically. The objective of this effort was to substantially expand the knowledge of what is going on across the country in this area and develop a plan to address and overcome existing barriers to greater use of electronic plans submittal, tracking and review.

Click here for survey results.

Reports to the Nation's Governors, Mayors & County Administrators

Finally, under funding from the U. S. Department of Energy, in early June the Alliance issued this third annual CD-ROM report on Alliance activities to the nation's governors, mayors, county officials, and chief information officers.


How to Get Involved in Supporting the Fulfillment of the Alliance's Objective & the Creation of a State-of-the-Art Integrated and Interoperable Building Regulatory System for our Nation

To successfully enhance public safety and economic competitiveness of the nation by streamlining the nation's building regulatory process through the development and use of interoperable hardware and software, the Alliance needs the active input and support of our colleagues in the information technology, construction and building regulatory communities.

In letters to the IT industry in late March, NCSBCS identified several specific steps that hardware and software firms can take to support this initiative. Those included becoming members of the new Information Technology Industry Advisory Subcommittee and continuing to provide input on draft Alliance interoperability project work products.

Support also is needed from state and local governments in their making use of the Alliance's Model Procurement Requirements in their hardware and software acquisition initiatives, providing input to the Alliance on their experience with hardware and software applications, and support for gaining federal funding for matching streamlining implementation grants.

The construction industry and related national trade associations support is needed as well, either though joining the Alliance and providing funding or in-kind services support and in providing support to state and local jurisdictions efforts to streamline their building regulatory processes and effectively apply information technology.

More information on the interoperability project and work products, Alliance membership are available by visiting the NCSBCS website or by contacting Carolyn Fitch at NCSBCS 703 437-0100, extension 238.