Selecting A & E Services
The information in this article is not intended to apply to projects funded by federal grants and loans as it does not address Federal Single Audit requirements or the New Uniform Guidance. For more information see Federal Single Audit and the New Uniform Guidance, 2 CFR 200 and The New Uniform Guidance, 2 CFR 200-Part 2 on our website.
The selection process for Architects & Engineering Services also includes the process for selecting land surveyors and landscape architects (state licenses and certifications are required for all competing firms).
When procuring professional services such as these, local governments must publicly announce requirements and then negotiate a contract with a firm on the basis of demonstrated competence and qualifications at fair and reasonable prices. This process is known as QBS, or Qualifications-Based Selection.
Selecting firms for professional services by using their qualifications is a public agency’s first selection criteria. The Washington State Legislature acknowledged that competitive bidding for professional design services was not in the public’s best interest when it adopted RCW 39.80 in 1981. Subsequently, local government agencies must select winning firms on the basis of quality and level of service.
Before starting any selection process, agencies must develop a plan to insure that minority- and women-owned firms are given the maximum practicable opportunity to compete for and obtain contracts. The level of participation is to be consistent with the general availability of minority- and women-owned firms within the professional communities involved.
Depending on the local government agency and the work required, the procurement process may vary. Since agencies generally have significant flexibility in determining how to solicit competition, all agencies should have written policies or procedures to ensure the selection process is implemented uniformly and consistently throughout the organization.
The Public Announcement
An agency’s announcement describes the general nature and scope of the work and provides contact information for an agency representative who can answer any follow-up questions. The purpose of the announcement is to reach as many firms as possible, thus increasing competition and providing more choices for the agency.
Local government agencies publish advance notification of their work requirements in one of two ways:
- Issue an announcement for each project
- Issue a general announcement describing the anticipated requirements for a category or type of service
Interested firms should be asked to submit qualifications to the agency using a uniform format and should supply the following information
- A list of principals
- Descriptions of previous projects
- Number of employees
- Applicable state licenses and/or certifications
Qualifications listed in a uniform manner allow agencies to more easily compare competing firms and assess the specialized characteristics of each, thus speeding up the selection process.
Under the first public announcement option noted above, an agency issues an announcement related to a specific project/work and includes a request for qualifications pertinent to this project/work.
Alternately, after issuing a general public announcement with anticipated requirements for a category or type of service, an agency may create and maintain, or subscribe to, a list of firms that have provided a statement of qualifications for future work in the type of service identified. As a specific project or work becomes available, the agency can then use this list/roster to identify appropriate firms to consider.
Regardless of which process the agency prescribes, it may consider current statements of qualifications that have been submitted by interested firms in addition to statements submitted by other firms. An agency may choose to advertise the work even when using firms on a list/roster, depending on the specific need. However, if an agency chooses to do so, it should have clear policies in place to help determine when projects may be subject to further advertisement.
The agency then issues a Request for Proposal (RFP) to all qualified firms asking these firms to submit additional qualifications, if not already on file, as well as a proposed scope of services, estimated schedule, a description of the firm’s experience, and reference documents. Do not request any budget or pricing at this stage of the process so that you remain compliant with the intent of RCW 39.80 to select only on qualifications. An agency may request submittals from any specific firms they feel are qualified or appropriate for the services required, regardless of whether these firms are on a roster/list or not.
After reviewing these RFP’s, the agency can conduct discussions with one or more firms and select the one deemed “most qualified” based on the established criteria. Firms considered in this process should be ranked in order of preference. It's important to document evaluations, notes, and other records in support of the ranking and selection process.
After evaluation and ranking, the agency begins to negotiate a contract with the most qualified firm. Negotiations will include discussions refining the scope of work, schedule, deliverables, terms, and price. When determining whether the cost is fair and reasonable, agencies should consider the nature of the work, the risk assumed by the consultant/firm, the management of sub-consultants, and the project timeline.
If the agency and its highest ranked firm cannot negotiate a contract, the agency may negotiate with the next most qualified firm, and continue through its ranked firms until an agreement is reached with one, or the process is terminated.
On-Call A/E Contracts
Some agencies will establish on-call A/E contracts to streamline the process for ongoing architectural and engineering services.
A generally accepted practice for on-call A/E contracts is to publicly announce the on-call requirement with a scope of work defined as a specific category of A/E services. Statements of qualifications are solicited through an Request for Qualifications (RFQ). The most qualified firm is selected and contract negotiation ensues, including discussions of fully loaded hourly rates and markups.
When a specific agency project arises, negotiation of the specific scope of work and amount to be paid is conducted, then work orders are executed for this assignment. Maximum-dollar thresholds for each work order and for the life of the on-call contract should be established by agency policy.
Recently, another scenario was presented where several firms with appropriate qualifications were evaluated and selected from an advertised consultant list/roster to be utilized for on-call work. In this scenario, when a work order arises, the agency sends out a work order request to all of the on-call selected firms asking for project proposals. The agency evaluates these proposals and selects the best firm that also has the lowest cost and/or can meet the requested deadline. The difference in this scenario is that there is no separate advertisement for the on-call selection; it comes from the consultant list/roster
Initial feedback on this approach from the auditor’s office was that it might likely meet the requirements of RCW 39.80, but the review on whether such an approach complies with RCW 39.80 would occur only if and when the process was audited. Agencies who are using this process or anticipate using this process should be sure to have well defined, written policies and consult with their legal staff in determining compliance.
I would like to hear from readers regarding the procurement methods you use for A/E contracting and whether you have well-established policies or practices other than those described above. Please send me an email at email@example.com, or if you’d like to share your ideas through an informal conversation, call me at 206-625-1300 X110.
If you have questions about this or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.