When it Comes to the Budget, Always BLUF

Brian M. Tompkins

While attending the AAAE/ACC Airport Planning, Design and Construction Symposium earlier this year, I heard an acronym that was new to me: Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). In essence, it’s the practice of beginning a message with the most important information (the “bottom line”) so recipients are provided with the key information they need right away.

Brian M. Tompkins, PE, CM, is a federal government employee with 25 years of airport planning, design and construction experience. During that tenure, he
has been involved in more than 400 airport development projects involving federal grants.

The origins of BLUF date back to the 1980s, when the U.S. Army started training active duty members to write more effectively. As writing standards began to surface, Army Regulation 25-50, Information Management: Records Management: Preparing and Managing Correspondence, was created to capture them.

The FAA also offers guidance on how to write clearly and effectively. In Order 1000.36, FAA Writing Standards, the federal agency instructs writers to “present material in the order that is most useful to the reader.” One way to accomplish this is by “putting the most important points first.” Sounds familiar.

What is Most Important to the FAA?

For your FAA Airports Division Program Manager (PM), the most important information throughout the life of a project is likely going to be its budget—where the federal funding an airport anticipates needing and what is available meet. In managing Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants within a given fiscal year, your particular grant proposal is but one of many assigned to the FAA PM. Individual budgets communicate the federal funding at the project level and at the AIP level in aggregate.

Certainly, there are other high-value components of a project like geometric layout, pavement design, lighting and electrical design, etc., and these may be more exciting to an engineer than preparing and discussing budgets. But those elements are completed in the design phase. The project budget, however, is active and maturing along every stage—from the Data Sheet to each design submittal and through construction via change orders until its final state at closeout.

The general convention is to list the project budget in the last section of the FAA-required Engineer’s Design Report. This practice likely stems from supplemental guidance conveyed in AIP Sponsor Guide Section 920, Engineer’s Design Report, which places the project budget last in its bulleted list of recommended minimum topics.

No doubt, this location is logical from the engineer’s perspective, since one must first identify and design all of the components of a project in order to generate a complete construction cost estimate and then ascertain what federal and local funds are needed. It also seems to mirror the business world’s paradigm of putting earnings, profit, net income, etc., near the bottom of a company’s income statement.

Should Budget Information be Conveyed Differently?

When an FAA-funded project begins, one of the first tasks is to conduct a Predesign Conference. Generally, one of the first topics discussed is the project’s scope. Second should be the federal funding an airport anticipates needing. Third should be the overall project schedule.

Moving the project budget discussion from the end of the Engineer’s Design Report to the beginning would benefit the FAA PM given the budget’s 1) importance in communicating the need for federal funding to the FAA, 2) linkage to all phases of a project, and 3) “living status” until the grant is officially closed.

The budget is sine qua non (essential) to a project and, as such, deserves a more prominent position—not only in the Engineer’s Design Report, but also in discussions with the FAA over the life of a project. Use the BLUF concept to move the budget front-and-center, right where it belongs.

2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



# # #

# # #