Sustained Outrage

Highway robbery III

If you think engineers are ripping you off, think again, several engineers have said in recent days. We’ve reported that Gov. Joe Manchin wants the Legislature to pass a bill to change the way the state puts engineering contracts for highway and water projects out to bid. The governor wants to dump the Qualified Based Selection process used by the federal government and 47 other states and replace it with a lowest-bid procedure.

barrel.jpgYes, the governor’s changes would cut into their profits, engineers say. But the changes would also increase the cost of doing business unnecessarily. Some firms would close, downsize, move out of state or simply shift away from government work.

In addition, what little money the state may save in engineering fees is going to be lost in increased construction costs, ongoing maintenance costs and possibly even safety, engineers say.

A June 2008 report  prepared for the American Public Works Association and the American Council of Engineering Companies concluded that:

Public agencies that use Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) to procure architectural and engineering (A/E) services are better able to control construction costs and achieve a consistently high degree of project satisfaction than those using other procurement methods. 

For that report, researchers surveyed mostly public clients on their satisfaction with various projects. Most of the projects were highway and water jobs, the same kind affected by the governor’s bill. Here are a few of the findings:


1. QBS (the current federal and state procedure) ensures cost-effectiveness. Industry wide, change orders throughout the construction process add an average 10 percent to project costs. For projects let and managed under Qualified Based Selection, the average cost increase was 3 percent.

2. For higher-risk or more complex projects, owners surveyed said QBS procurement enabled them to work with design teams to refine scope and explore alternatives.

3. QBS promoted more innovation.

4. QBS was more likely than cost-based selection to address emerging societal needs, such as sustainability, and to address concerns of more stakeholders in the process.

Another report  prepared by the American Institute of Architects compares the bidding and contract procedures for architectural and engineering firms in Maryland and Florida. Maryland changed to a lowest bid procedure, but did not save money as expected:

Since Maryland’s law requiring selection based on price and technical proposals went into effect, there has been an 11.6 percent increase in the budget (in constant dollars) of the DGS Office of Engineering and Construction which participated in the A/E selection and capital construction process.