The cost of design comprises one percent or less of a typical project's construction and life-cycle operating/maintenance costs, but the quality of design determines what these other costs will be. Cheap design is expensive.
The procurement of engineering and architectural services is one of the most important parts of the design and construction process ensuring quality in the constructed project. A qualifications-based selection (QBS) process allows the owner to choose the firm determined to be most qualified by objective criteria, whereas selecting design professionals by low bid takes this process out of the hands of the owner.
The owner's challenge is to get a good "return" on the investment in design services. This may be achieved by selecting a qualified A/E and negotiating the appropriate scope and compensation to permit the A/E to work toward a successful constructed project. The impact of the A/E's efforts on innovative design, exploration of alternatives, life cycle costs, construction costs and liability exposure to the client is critical to a project's success.
The design professional is in a unique position to assist the owner with both the scope of the project and the services required to fulfill the owner's needs. The only way to develop a complete scope of work that fully meets the owner's needs is through interaction between the selected design professional and the owner.
Mr. Ben Watts, P.E., the Secretary of Transportation for the state of Florida, one of the recipients of the National Society of Professional Engineers 1996 QBS Award, made the following remarks about the Qualifications Based Selection process:
"The (QBS) process is open, the process is fair and the process is honest. It is a simple process...you do good work, you get more work. And, if you do poor work, it is the end of the partnership (with the Florida DOT). I think that is what the public is demanding of us more and more each day."
"I would hate to think that I would be lying on the operating table and the doctor came in with the low bid competitive system, and he scrubbed up and he looked at me and said... 'Well, you know we do this by low bid, Mr. Watts, and things have been a little slow and I really needed this job...now, I have never done one of these before, but I am fairly certain that I can handle it..."
"We as engineers need to help every citizen to understand that when they ride across a bridge structure or they drive on the interchange or traffic signal phasing, or whatever it is, it is just as important an impact on that individual as what that doctor could be doing, and then they will understand this (QBS) system much better."
The QBS process is a legal, fair and objective process. Used successfully since the Civil War, QBS is the most widely endorsed method by which public owners select design professionals. Particularly because of concerns for public health and safety, the QBS process is endorsed by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), as well as public organizations such as the American Public Works Association (APWA) and the American Water Works Association (AWWA). The process is also strongly supported by the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
The process is mandated on federally-funded projects as outlined in Public Law 92-582 (Brooks Architectural and Engineering Act). At least 34 states have adopted a statute requiring the QBS process on publicly-funded state projects.
"It is unwise to pay too much, but it's worse to pay too little. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot -- it can't be done." -- John Ruskin
"Price has no meaning except in terms of the quality of the product." -- Dr. Edwards Deming.