Services rendered remain the same

The five most popular services provided by AEC firms haven’t changed in several years, although they do jockey for position. This year, wastewater and stormwater treatment bumped road and bridge construction from the number one spot:

1. Wastewater/stormwater treatment (46%)

2. Road/bridge construction (42%)

3. Pipeline construction/rehabilitation (41%)

4. Surveying/mapping/GIS (34%)

5. Landscape architecture/park design (31%)

Likewise, the remaining top 10 answers are no surprise:

6. Watersheds/water resources (25%)

7. Water treatment (24%)

8. Asset management (18%)

9. Maintenance of public buildings (17%)

10. Traffic control (16%).

Respondents also added their own categories: new construction of public buildings, environmental services, airport terminal construction, water distribution, and master planning.

Additionally, 57% say they’re using AEC firms more than they had in the past for wastewater/stormwater treatment, watersheds/water resources, water treatment, and pipeline construction/rehabilitation. “Generally, large projects that staff members don’t have the time or expertise to handle,” explains a respondent from the West.

Qualifications-based selection

This year, we also asked if respondents use qualifications-based selection (QBS) to select firms instead of awarding work to the lowest bidder. QBS enables owners to base selections on qualifications and competence rather than price. In 1972 Congress passed the Brooks Act, which requires federal departments and agencies to select architects and engineers on the basis of their qualifications, subject to the negotiation of fair compensation for services. Since then, many state and local governments have mandated “mini-Brooks” laws.

A little more than three-quarters of survey-takers use QBS. “The state requires it and it makes sense,” says a Southeastern respondent. A Midwesterner explains that the department’s decision to use QBS is a direct result of previous experience with an under-qualified consultant.

Among the remaining 24%, reasons for not using the procurement process include required by law to use lowest bidders and long-time relationships with preferred firms. A New England wastewater superintendent says his operation doesn’t need QBS because it has stayed with the same engineering firm they found via QBS 10 years ago.

“Sole source is justifiable and the most efficient method when following a master plan for a given watershed,” explains another.

Still others expressed concerns about costs: “We always need to look at price as part of the package. QBS seeks to push some of that discussion off the table.”

One respondent offers a solution: “We include costs as one category in the QBS.”