Focusing on Value in Procurement of Engineering Services

ACEC/MW Virginia Municipal Co-Chair, Adam Marolf, talks about the value of utilizing qualifications as the primary selection criteria for procuring engineering services as discussed at the Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) Roundtable Luncheon on 3/2/2023.
On March 2, 2023, ACEC/MW hosted a roundtable luncheon to discuss Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) at Maggiano's in Tysons, VA. The hybrid event had over 100 participants, with more than half attending in-person, including consultants and agency representatives who learned about the benefits of considering qualifications in the procurement of engineering services. The presentation and roundtable discussion focused on the selection process following the federal legal requirements of what is commonly known as the “Brooks Act”, which established the requirement for federal agencies and federally funded projects to utilize qualifications as the primary criteria when procuring architectural and engineering services, but also the overall value that it brings to the public whose tax dollars fund these projects. The speakers included Steve Hall, Senior Vice President of Advocacy for ACEC National, and Jillian Cazalet, Chief of Design Management for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District. Roundtable panelists included Terry Suehr, Director of the Department of Project Implementation for the City of Alexandria; Rosalind Knox, Contracts & Administrative Services Section Chief for Stormwater Management for the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services; Bradley Richmond, Corporate Strategic Procurement Manager for The Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission (MNCPPC); and Bill Olen, Executive Director of Planning & Construction for University of Maryland, College Park. The event was moderated by John McDowell of Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, LLP, ACEC/MW Virginia Municipal Committee Chair, and Mike Perrotta of Century Engineering, a Kleinfelder Company, ACEC/MW Maryland Municipal Committee Chair.

Steve Hall (ACEC National) began the conversation with a refresher on the Brooks Act of 1972, formally the Procurement, Management, and Administration of Engineering and Design Related Services statute (Title 23, Chapter I, Subchapter B, Part 172 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations), which enacted into law the requirements that the U.S. Federal Government base their competitive selection of professional services on the competency, qualifications, and experience of the interested teams. Around 50 percent of states have laws that also require localities to follow these guidelines, and most others generally utilize some form of QBS process. There have been many studies completed to identify the benefits of QBS with one of the most comprehensive studies conducted in 2009 by Paul Chinowsky of the University of Colorado Boulder and Gordon Kingsley of Georgia Tech. The study was broadened in 2022, and Steve indicated that the study resulted in the conclusions that: 1) QBS is less costly overall due to lower cost escalation, less schedule creep, and fewer construction change orders; 2) better talent leads to higher client perception and satisfaction, particularly for complex projects that require innovation; and, 3) QBS is good when agencies may be short-staffed or have turnover in their project management as it helps maintain continuity. More information about QBS from the ACEC Research Institute can be found here

Jillian Cazalet (USACE Baltimore District) went into more detail regarding the actual process that agencies go through when procuring professional engineering services under the Brooks Act using USACE Engineering Publication EP 715-1-7 (Architect-Engineer Contracting in USACE). Jillian stated that projects are announced publicly to allow for a competitive group of teams, and each team submits their qualifications using an Architect-Engineer Qualification Standard Form SF-330, which includes contract-specific qualifications, resumes for key personnel, ability to staff the project, and relevant project experience. The USACE also takes advantage of information from the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) which tracks evaluations from previous work with the USACE. The evaluation board uses a rational, consistent, fair approach for comparison of qualifications and places importance on an understanding of the project. Jillian noted that teams should be sure to ask questions during the proposal process if there are areas of uncertainty. After the selection is completed, the unsuccessful teams are notified within 10 days, and they can request a debrief for more information on the selection process. Lastly, Jillian stated that that following QBS for procurement of engineering services is necessary to provide quality teams to deliver projects and enable the USACE to satisfy its mission.
Following the presentations, the panelists from the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, The Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission, and The University of Maryland participated in a roundtable discussion responding to questions from the moderators and the audience. 

The general idea carried through the discussions was that the agencies recognize that it is advantageous to utilize QBS in procuring engineering services. It was acknowledged that there are instances where the use of QBS is mandated, but there are other cases where the procurement department has some flexibility to utilize QBS even for non-professional services. Bill Olen stated that the University of Maryland procurement falls outside of the Department of General Services and that since 2016 both architectural-engineering (A/E) and non-A/E services are procured using QBS. Rosalind Knox said that Fairfax County uses QBS completely for professional services and that regardless of the procurement method, it is important that the procurement facilitators remain hands-on during the process to guide the selection and help to maintain transparency. Bradley Richmond said that while MNCPPC does include some component of price in their proposals, it is kept at a small percentage of the scoring (typically 10 percent or less) to keep the focus on qualifications and the scope at the proposal phase must be well-defined. Terry Suehr recognized the challenges in defining professional services for QBS, but that the City of Alexandria procurement department typically has enough authority to utilize QBS when engineering services are included as any part of a project.

The conversation then shifted to ways that negotiations during procurement can be improved. Bill Olen said that the University of Maryland specifies the estimated design fees or effort in a way to indicate to the selected team what the expected level of effort and complexity are for the project and that can then be discussed in a pre-negotiation meeting. Rosalind Knox mentioned that having a very well-defined scope of services outlined in the request for proposals is very important. Terry Suehr indicated that when costs negotiations are needed, it is often due to a misunderstanding of the scope, and it is important for the agencies to talk through the scope with the selected team prior to obtaining the cost proposal. This allows the selected team to put forward the right staff to accomplish the project goals within budget. Bradley Richmond said it is also important for the request for proposals to be clear about timeline for the project schedule and expected deliverables to let the interested firms know what to expect from the contract.

The presentations and dialogue created a great understanding of the benefits that QBS provides and the importance of using qualifications as the primary criteria in the procurement of professional services. The industry appreciates these meaningful discussions and strives to provide the best team to accomplish complex challenges for the agencies, and it is vital that the agencies utilize QBS to allow the interested firms to bring the right staff and expertise to deliver their projects. 

We thank the speakers and panelists for their time, knowledge, and partnership they share with the engineering industry.

The ACEC/MW Virginia Municipal Committee and Maryland Municipal Committee both meet monthly, and we would love to have you join us.  For more information about the committees, or to get involved, click here.

From Left: Mac Cannon (ACEC/MW President), Mike Perrotta (ACEC/MW Maryland Municipal Committee Chair), John McDowell (ACEC/MW Virginia Municipal Committee Chair), Rosalind Knox (Fairfax DPWES), Bradley Richmond (MNCPPC), Terry Suehr (City of Alexandria), Bill Olen (UMD), Jillian Cazalet (USACE Baltimore District), Keith Foxx (ACEC/MW Board Chair) 


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