Engineering Services for Horizontal Construction Projects
Successful project development requires the assistance of design professionals. For most municipalities, engineering design is a contracted service. Although the procurement of engineering design services for municipal horizontal construction is not subject to specific state procurement regulations in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) process is recommended.
Qualifications Based Selection (QBS)
Qualifications Based Selection for Engineering Design Consultants is the procurement process that is used by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, as well as many other state agencies. It has been required by law for all federally funded projects since 1972, and is also used by forty-four state DOTs on state funded projects, and many local agencies. QBS is included in the American Bar Association's Model Practices for State and Local Governments, and it is an endorsed policy of the American Society of Civil Engineers to support QBS for the engagement of engineering services.
The American Public Works Association endorses the QBS process and notes that "Basing selections on qualifications and competence, rather than price, fosters greater creativity and flexibility, and it minimizes the potential for disputes and litigation."
QBS makes the consultant a partner in the development and delivery of a successful project. QBS allows firms that put together a thorough and comprehensive submission to compete fairly, and for the municipality to get "apples to apples" submission documents from engineering design firms. It avoids inconsistencies in proposed scopes of services or situations where the work effort may not include certain required efforts such as the Early Environmental Coordination Checklist, Public Outreach, Utility Coordination, Subsurface Exploration, and Right of Way Actions. Incomplete scopes of services lead to design amendments and/or contractor change orders - delaying the project and driving up overall project costs.
The process for procuring consultant design services utilizing QBS can be structured into three phases: 1) planning and preparation; 2) selecting a consultant; and 3) negotiating a contract. The first phase includes developing a procurement plan; developing an initial scope of services, initial cost estimate/budget and initial project schedule; establishing selection criteria and preparing the Request for Responses (RFR) document. The second phase includes providing public notice of the RFR, receiving response submittals, evaluating response submittals, ranking and short-listing firms, conducting interviews (if required) and determining final ranking and consultant selection. The third phase – negotiating a contract – includes collaborating with the selected consultant to develop a final, detailed scope of services, a reasonable schedule and a fair design fee for the project. In determining a fair fee for the project, the municipality must take into account the scope and complexity of the overall project.
The participation of the consultant in developing the detailed scope of services allows the municipality to fully utilize the consultant's experience and expertise in designing similar projects, fostering creativity and innovation, while avoiding problems with omissions of items from the scope of services, as often happens when utilizing low bids as part of the selection process. If a contract cannot be successfully negotiated with the highest ranked consultant, then the municipality has the option to end negotiations with the highest ranked consultant and begin negotiations with the consultant ranked second highest. The negotiations may continue with successive ranked firms until an agreement is reached. The municipality always remains in control when using the QBS process.
It should be noted that many municipalities procure engineering design services using a "two envelope" Request for Proposals (RFP) process described in the Massachusetts Inspector General's Procurement Manual. This RFP process, which includes a bidding component, is not well suited to the procurement of engineering design services for the following reasons:
- It requires the development of a comprehensive, detailed engineering scope of services by the municipality prior to issuance of the RFP.
- It is issued when there are still many key issues that have not yet been identified, addressed, or defined.
- The process can burden a municipality with a detailed "apples to oranges" comparison of scope and fee submitted by engineering design firms, if a detailed scope is not provided.
- It is often not a prudent expenditure of time by a municipality and the design consultant firms.
The level of effort spent on procurement under the QBS RFR process varies depending on the size and complexity of the project. The basic steps of the QBS process are described below.