Orange County Branch Newsletter

February 2005

Secretary's Column


Darren Adrian, PE
How often have we spent a large amount of time and effort proposing for a project that we did not get only to be left with a clear message that the fee was the deciding factor? This message may be simply stated by the perspective client or we may deduce it based on the less qualified firm that was selected. Everyone involved in competing for work has encountered this at one time or another.
This is common in the private sector arena because investment return is at stake and because there are no public funds involved, there are no regulations requiring Qualification Based Selection (QBS). In this case, client relationship with a client that has adequate knowledge of the engineering process is important. With the right match, this relationship can lead to years of mutually prosperous results. Client maintenance must always be considered though, as even the best and most knowledgeable clients are tempted go over to the cheaper, less qualified consultants at times. Usually these diversions take care of themselves once the client has problems on a project and realizes that the additional fee for a qualified consultant is minimal when compared to the cost of the problems.
What about public agencies? Ever get that message? Unfortunately we do from time-to-time. The message is not usually stated by the prospective client, but we see several factors indicating it.
Government agencies are subject to the State of California Mini-Brooks Act that was adopted on January 1, 1990. This states that “selection by a state or local agency head for professional services of private architecture, engineering, environmental, land surveying, or construction project management firms shall be on the basis of demonstrated competence and on the professional qualifications necessary for the satisfactory performance of the services required.” It goes on to explain that state agency heads shall adopt by regulation and local agency heads may adopt by ordinance procedures to ensure QBS is performed and that fees are fair and reasonable.
What can we do on our part to help ensure that government agencies are using QBS and abiding by the Mini-Brooks Act?
Be Proactive by Observing Trends and Identifying Issues
This will enable us to take action early on. Recently I have observed a few things that may contribute to increased disregard towards QBS. The first is simply available funding. Once funding begins to dry up agencies are striving to stretch the dollar. There is nothing wrong with stretching the dollar, but we do not want to have that come at the cost of compromising services. Rather, innovative cost saving methods and reduced scope for project construction should be considered to meet budget constraints. The second relates to the shortage consultants face in obtaining qualified technical staff. Engineers have become more valuable which has driven salaries up and in turn consultant fees have increased as well. This is especially evident for consultants that retain highly qualified Engineers and Managers. Agencies need to be made aware of this issue and realize that the most qualified consultants must retain their staff and charge accordingly in order to deliver the high quality service expected. The third is the apparent increase in lack of knowledge and experience with the QBS process. This is staff with public agencies and consultants that need to be better informed and reminded of this very important process along with the requirements set forth by the Mini-Brooks Act. This appears to be more prevalent among smaller municipalities that may not have a well-defined process.
Clearly State Your Position  
This is simple, yet very important. Clearly stating your support for QBS should be accomplished through conversation as well as written correspondence. All perspective clients should be screened for their QBS process before a pursuit is engaged. If they do not exercise QBS then work with them should be avoided. If this occurs, they should be notified and encouraged to adopt a QBS process according to the requirements of the Mini-Brooks Act. If an existing client appears to be diverging from QBS, set a meeting with them to discuss their process and point out that you want to continue work with them under the condition that they implement a fair QBS process. In general, noting your support for an agency’s QBS process can be included in a proposal or other written correspondence before or after work is obtained.
Educate Your Client
As noted in one of the trends above, there are agency staff out there that may not be informed of the requirement for QBS. They may not be familiar with the Mini-Brooks Act, or maybe even their own adopted regulations or ordinances. They can be educated through written correspondence, meetings, seminars and the like. The initial efforts for this should be positive. Demonstrate the greater success a project will have when a proper QBS process is utilized. And of course, always be willing to send clients a copy of the Mini-Brooks Act.
Campaign Through Professional Organizations
One of the most effective tools we have is to unite together for this common purpose. This is best done through societies such as ASCE and CELSOC. This provides an organized centralization that carries a lot of influence. With enough participation a society can generate letters, release statements, maintain databases, form special committees, hold luncheons and host seminars.
None of these four items requires significant time commitments. In fact, most of them can be accomplished right along side other required tasks. With commitment to promoting QBS we ensure high quality services to our public infrastructure and fair conditions for business. Remember, we have an obligation to our practice to ensure that government agencies are fairly selecting consultants according to qualifications.
If you would like a copy of the Mini-Brooks Act please send an email request to: [email protected]. And as always, I welcome your input on this subject as well.