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Architecture and Engineering Contracts

This page provides a general overview of the qualifications-based selection procedures local governments in Washington State should follow when contracting for professional architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, or surveying services.

It is part of MRSC’s series on Purchasing and Contracting.

For more detailed information, download MRSC's publication Contracting for Services.

What are A&E Services?

Professional architecture and engineering (A&E) services are services provided by any person, other than an employee of the agency, that fall under the general statutory definitions of:

State licenses and certifications are required in these professions, and A&E projects may be performed in conjunction with public works projects.

Qualifications-Based Selection

All local governments must follow the uniform requirements of chapter 39.80 RCW when procuring professional A&E contracts. Unlike other types of contracts which are awarded to the lowest responsible bidder, A&E contracts are awarded primarily based on qualifications, rather than cost, a process known as "qualifications-based selection" (QBS).

Consultants submit qualifications and/or a non-cost proposal to an agency. The agency then assesses the expertise of the competing firms, selects the most highly qualified firm, and negotiates the final project scope and associated fee.

If the agency and most highly qualified firm cannot reach an agreement on project scope, schedule, and budget, the agency then negotiates with the next most highly qualified firm.

QBS recognizes that the lowest price should not be a factor for selecting highly skilled design services for essential public facilities and infrastructure. QBS has been required for all public A&E contracts in Washington since 1981.

Women, Minority, and Veteran-Owned Businesses

All local governments seeking A&E services must develop a plan to give maximum opportunities to women, minority, and veteran-owned firms, making sure that their participation levels are consistent with their general availability within each given field (RCW 39.80.040).

Advance Notification

All local agencies in need of A&E services must publish advance notification in one of two ways (RCW 39.80.030):

  • By issuing an announcement for each project
  • By issuing a general announcement describing the anticipated requirements for a category or type of service

These announcements should concisely describe the general scope and nature of the project or work, as well as the address of an agency representative who can provide further information.

Soliciting Qualifications and Proposals

Local governments generally have significant flexibility in determining how to solicit competition. However, if the project includes grant funding, the grant conditions may require a specific solicitation process. Generally, the more complex or expensive the project is anticipated to be, the more rigorous the solicitation process should be.

Requests for Qualifications

Requests for Qualifications (RFQs) ask only for a firm’s general capabilities, including:

  • List of principals
  • Previous projects
  • Number of employees
  • Licenses

Local governments may distribute RFQs for a services roster or as part of a formal competitive solicitation. In the case of a formal competitive solicitation, the RFQ can be combined with a Request for Proposals (RFP), or it could be distributed as the first step in the review process prior to distributing RFPs.

Requests for Proposals

Requests for Proposals (RFPs) ask proposers to submit qualifications, if not already on file, and a proposed scope of services in response to the agency’s specific needs. At a minimum, every RFP should include:

  • Statement of need (scope). This should be well-written with an adequate level of detail describing the project tasks and products, and listing the availability of supporting documents.
  • Estimated schedule. This should be realistic and closely tied to the scope.
  • Evaluation criteria. Be clear and tie the criteria to the scope. Provide the scoring criteria, and provide the decision schedule if available.
  • Proposal elements. List all the information that interested firms should submit, including the firm’s general approach to the project, a list of key personnel who would work on the project with their experience and availability, and general scope and deliverables. Keep the submittal requirements, page limitations, and due date in the same section of the RFP. Allow for flexibility in the format of responses.
  • Submittal deadline. Allow an adequate response time of 3-4 weeks. Accept electronic proposals, and acknowledge receipt of all proposals.
  • Agency’s standard terms and conditions. Attach a copy of the terms and conditions, if available, to the RFP.

Other common RFP elements include:

  • Background on the agency and project, including budgets
  • Reference documents, although large documents may be posted to a website and referenced in the document
  • Whether interviews will be included as part of the selection process
  • The pre-proposal conference schedule
  • Public disclosure guidance
  • Notice that costs incurred in the development of proposals and the selection process will be assumed by the proposers
  • Formal certification by the proposer of its authorization to submit the proposal, time validity of the proposal, non-collusion, etc.

Evaluation Criteria

Each agency may establish its own criteria for evaluating proposals (RCW 39.80.040). Potential evaluation criteria include, but are not limited to:

  • Experience in designing/surveying the type of project envisioned
  • Quality of previous performance
  • Ability to meet contract deadlines
  • Responsiveness to solicitation requirements
  • Compliance with statutes and rules relating to contracts or services
  • References
  • Staff readily available for the project
  • Financial capacity
  • Licensing and certification
  • History of errors and omissions
  • Construction change order history

Agencies should consider whether to use a review committee and whether to use weighted evaluation criteria.

Contract Negotiations

After evaluating the proposals, agency staff or the review committee usually recommend a single A&E firm for contract award, subject to contract negotiations. Negotiations with the recommended firm include refining the scope of work, schedule, deliverables, and price, with the objective of obtaining the best value for the agency. Agencies may wish to develop a checklist of standard contract terms that can be modified for individual projects.

The agency must ensure that the final scope is consistent with the services described in the formal solicitation document. A substantial change in the scope may lead to protests from unsuccessful firms, especially if it is accompanied by a cost increase over and above the original projections.

When determining whether the cost is fair and reasonable, agencies should consider the nature of the work, the risk assumed by the consultant, the management of any sub-consultants, and the project timeline.

If the agency is unable to negotiate a fair and reasonable price with the most highly qualified firm, it may negotiate with the second-most qualified firm instead, and so on until an agreement is reached with one of the firms or the process is terminated (RCW 39.80.050).

Intergovernmental Architecture and Engineering Contracts

Two or more agencies may enter into an intergovernmental contract providing for the joint utilization of architecture and engineering services - see RCW 39.34.030(6). The primary agency must comply with all the requirements of chapter 39.80 RCW, and the services provided to other agencies must be related to and within the general scope of the work the firm was originally selected to perform.

Emergency A&E Contracts

RCW 39.80.060 exempts emergency A&E contracts from the normal statutory procurement requirements.

Practice Tip: Any contract for which a competitive process is waived must be an explicit necessity and directly related to the emergency.

Examples of A&E Contracts and Documents

Below are a few examples of architecture and engineering contracts and related documents:

Policies and Procedures

General A&E Agreements and Forms

Architecture Services

Engineering & Surveying Services

For more sample documents regarding purchasing and contracting, see MRSC's Sample Document Library.

Last Modified: January 23, 2023