Orange County Branch Newsletter

December 2013

Secretary's Column

Secretary's Column - A Week in the Life of a Design Professional


This week I received a call from a large construction firm seeking a bid from our firm for construction support services for a very high-profile municipal project.  After a few minutes it was clear to me that it was more of a cold call than an actual quality-seeking call.  Given the nature of the project, that was a bit alarming, though not at all unusual.  As the call progressed, I gained the understanding that if a firm that did not meet ‘special-case’ (MBE, WBE or other) classification; they would not be seriously considered for the work.  Understandable, of course, as for the contractor to have a chance to win the project, they have to comply with the project participation MBE and WBE goals.

Ok, let’s change gears for a moment: The Brooks Act, commonly referred to as Qualifications Based Selection, was introduced by US Representative Jack Brooks of Texas, and became law way back in 1972.  The federal law requires that architects and engineers be selected on the basis of qualifications, subject to negotiation of fair and reasonable compensation.  Quality Based Selection is used by most states, including California, and numerous local government entities.

Interesting scenario as it appears that two opposing laws are in play.

OK…shifting gears again. As a private and public sector civil engineering consultant, it is generally not in my nature to tell my clients when they are not right. Over the last few weeks with the year-end push to beat the new building code, client schedules and demands have maxed out, it seems.  So, is the client always right?  Well, yes and no.  In some cases, in order for a project to materialize, it is necessary for the design professionals to be skillfully creative in providing interim and progress deliverables.  However, in some cases, this approach just doesn’t work.

And when a project doesn’t materialize, and dies a slow and painful death, some clients leave their consultants holding the bag for some or all of the soft costs associated with their skillfully creative approach; a loss-loss scenario for the design professionals. Considering these not all-too uncommon scenarios, I am wondering what the heck happened to our profession?  Was it always like this or are we just in a new-age of reality where our willingness to please our clients has diluted and in some cases has commoditized our services?

Maybe the lesson, if any, is to remember that our time and our professional services are extremely valuable to our clients and we need to remember this very important item.  We need to usher in the age when engineers' fee and service structures, as well as opportunities, are comparable to our other professional colleagues.

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