Is there much work for architects in the stimulus? I thought it was construction-oriented.

It’s true that the push for “shovel-ready” projects has skewed the stimulus toward construction rather than architectural services. But business consultant Hugh Hochberg, of the Coxe Group, argues that given the staggering amount of money in the Recovery Act, even the small share that’s available to architects constitutes “a significant number.” The AIA has identified nearly $100 billion in ARRA provisions that will directly affect the built environment—some requiring an architect’s services, others not.

Do you need government experience to get your foot in the door?

Not technically, but it helps a lot. There are firms that can leapfrog over less-experienced competitors by, for instance, already having an IDIQ contract (indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity) or being old hands at filling out the Standard Form 330, used across agencies for submitting architect-engineer qualifications.

Robert Siegel Architects in New York won a nationwide IDIQ under the GSA six years ago, and partner Robert Siegel recently interviewed for a land port of entry project in the range of $85 million and funded through the ARRA. Because the agency looked to three prequalified IDIQ firms, Siegel says, the project should be in design—to whoever ends up winning it—within four to six months, rather than the standard year and a half. Such speed is of the essence because under many provisions of the law, funds must be obligated by Sept. 30, 2010.

I haven’t started to pursue this yet. Am I too late?

“Firms are definitely not too late, but the clock is ticking,” says the AIA’s Andrew Goldberg. If you haven’t met with people in the agencies you’re targeting, do so now, and keep a close eye on, the online clearinghouse for government contracting. Many firms have been prepping for this for months: Even before the bill passed, SmithGroup charged staff members around the country with visiting their local GSA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Naval Facilities Engineering Command outposts, “to get a sense of what might be on the list of projects they wanted to do,” says Sally Lee, a principal in the firm’s Washington office. (SmithGroup is already at work on two Recovery Act projects.) Similarly, Kansas City, Mo.’s BNIM hosted a charrette to discuss the ARRA.

There are still opportunities at the state level, says Goldberg. Although states are “in very different places,” with a few still debating whether to accept the funds at all, “most states have a pretty clear ... sense of where the money is going to go,” Goldberg notes. Chris Taylor, chief marketing officer and leader of the government market for HMC, a California firm that does a lot of state work, advises, “You’re best positioned for work that’s near you.”

One big unknown for architects is the act’s $54 billion state stabilization fund, 83 percent of which will aid local school districts. Given the perilous financial situation of many states, a lot of that money may go toward saving teachers’ jobs—but Goldberg believes that some of it will be spent on facilities.

How much of the money has been spent already?

Very little. As of mid-May, The Wall Street Journal was reporting that only 6 percent of stimulus funds had been spent. Yet some agencies are moving quickly to allocate funds and award contracts, at least: The GSA was one of the first out of the gate, with a detailed spending plan for its $5.5 billion ready by the end of March.

Is there a lot of competition for these projects?

Yes. “I’ve talked with federal agencies who said they’ve been bombarded” by inquiries, says Kevin Baur, Lee’s colleague at SmithGroup and the director of the firm’s federal studio. Likewise, Dennis Cusack, a principal at SRG Partnership in Portland, Ore., says his firm is helping institutional clients secure research funding from the National Institutes of Health, but he knows what they’re up against: There will be “literally thousands of applications,” he predicts.

Tammy Eagle Bull is the president of Encompass Architects, a Native American–owned firm that does 80 percent of its work with tribes. The Recovery Act designates billions for tribes—including nearly $1 billion for construction—and accordingly, Eagle Bull has noticed “a huge interest in tribes from other [non-Native] architects. Now there are 30 firms showing up for these projects, and it used to be us and two or three others.” She also gets about 10 calls a week from non-Native firms offering “to quote-unquote help me with my clients.”

Will the stimulus lead to a hiring wave at architecture firms?

Based on the interviews for this story, probably not. Although Siegel is sorting through résumés, others say that if their bids (or their clients’) are successful, they’ll spread the work among existing staff and maybe hire one or two extra people. Staying stable is the order of the day.