Myths & FAQ


blocked-stairsWhen state or local government officials undertake a construction project – whether it’s erecting a building, widening a highway, constructing a bridge, creating a city park, or any number of other public improvements-the selection of an architectural or engineering firm is one of the most important choices to be made. That’s because the engineering or architectural firm’s performance determines the entire course of the project and has a significant impact on the ultimate construction and operation and maintenance costs during the facility’s lifetime.

The engineering or architectural firm is retained at the beginning of a project, long before ground is broken and construction begins. Professional engineers and architects translate your needs and concepts into the reality of detailed construction plans.

You may be uncertain about the best way to select a firm and about the work that engineers and architects do. We hope the information in this section will answer some of your questions.

The basic phases of service on a typical project are feasibility study, preliminary design, final design, construction bid evaluation, and construction observation. Architectural projects often include a detailed programming phase that would precede actual design work.
The traditional method of hiring engineering and architectural firms for public work is through a process known as negotiated procurement or qualifications-based selection. The basic goal of this selection procedure is finding the best qualified firm or individual to perform the work. There are six major elements to this procurement procedure: public notice, submittals of qualifications, review of submittals, interviews, ranking respondents, and negotiation of a contract.
The process for selection of a firm to construct a project differs from that used in the selection of a firm to design the same project. A construction contract can be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder because all major aspects of the project are defined, including the type and amount of construction materials required to complete the project. On the other hand, you retain architects and engineers to turn your undefined concept into a set of plans and specifications. The engineers and architects take an idea and give it definition. The contractor takes that definition and turns it into a physical reality.
Yes, it can. Design/build is an alternative delivery process. When design/build is utilized, QBS should be used to select the design/build team. Some organizations advocate a two-step process where 1) selects an owner representative and 2) selects a design/build team. More detailed information is available from the QBS Colorado Coalition office.
All professional design firms should be retained for public work through qualifications-based selection. This would include, in addition to engineering and architectural firms, geotechnical, landscape architectural, photogrammetry, planning, owners’ representatives, environmental consultants, and surveying firms. Design firms frequently offer combined services. For example, many firms provide both architectural and engineering services, hence the term A/E. Many civil engineering firms also provide land surveying services.
The contracting agency announces that it needs architectural or engineering services for a particular project and invites interested firms to submit information about their qualifications and their experience.

The agency then reviews and evaluates the submissions and selects a “short list” of three to five firms. Personal interviews are usually conducted with these firms to discuss each firm’s qualifications, philosophies and overall approach to the project.

Once these interviews are completed, the agency ranks the firms. The top-ranked firm is then invited to negotiate a formal agreement. This includes a discussion of your concepts and goals, the alternatives that might be considered, a specific scope of work, the general approach of the firm to the scope of work, and the firm’s compensation for the project.

Not at all. It simply focuses competition for professional services on the most meaningful factors: qualifications, competence, previous performance, and availability.
Yes. In most states, design professionals offer assistance to state and local agencies through their professional societies. In some states, such as Colorado, programs have been established in the public interest to provide independent facilitators or technical advisors who work with public officials to structure a qualifications-based selection procedure that provides the contracting agency with an efficient process that is a long-term benefit to the taxpayers and users of public facilities. QBS Colorado Coalition is the designated organization in Colorado to provide these services.
As stated in the American Bar Association’s “Model Procurement Code for State and Local Governments”:

“The principal reasons supporting this selection procedure for architect-engineer and land surveying services are the lack of a definitive scope of work for such services at the time the selection is made and the importance of selecting the best qualified firm. In general, the architect, engineer, or land surveyor is engaged to represent the State’s interests and is, therefore, in a different relationship with the State from that normally existing in a buyer-seller situation. For these reasons, the qualifications, competence, and availability of the most qualified architect-engineer or land surveying firm is considered initially, and price negotiated later.”

(APWA also endorses qualifications-based selection. See the Endorsement Section for their statement.)

Certainly. But until you, and the architects and engineers you are considering, know in some detail what professional services you need, price discussion can’t be meaningful. If you focus first on qualifications, you will be assured that the professionals you hire will have the technical ability and professional judgment to turn your vision into an efficient, effective and economical reality.
Yes, the generally accepted concept that public procurement should be a on a competitive basis is fully met by the qualifications-based selection and negotiation procedures. It is highly competitive among the firms seeking the assignment. In fact, in the 1984 Competition in Contracting act, Congress explicitly declared that “competitive procedures” for Executive Branch agencies includes procurement of architectural or engineering services under the Brooks Act, which is the legislation mandating the use of qualifications-based selection for projects using Federal funds.
No. The qualifications-based selection procedure recommends that there be public announcement of project requirements so that all firms may submit their qualifications and be considered on their merits. The record is open for public scrutiny at all times during the selection process. In addition, attempts to introduce political favoritism into the process are opposed by the professional societies representing engineers, architects, and other design professionals.

The scope of work is a definition of the project and the services to be provided to secure its execution, including specific tasks necessary for completion. Negotiation of the scope also involves an evaluation of alternative solutions or approaches to the project.
The potential for these problems may be reduced because the parties will have a thorough understanding of respective responsibilities and obligations. Qualifications-based selection and negotiated procurement fosters cooperation because it eliminates the potential adversarial relationship between the client and the design professional associated with the selection made on the basis of price.
No. There can be an inverse relationship between the cost of design and the much larger cost of constructing and operating the ultimate facilities. Sufficient funds invested in engineering and architectural design services, that are generally a very small percentage of total construction costs, will bring out the most cost-effective requirements for a successful project through consideration of alternative methods and materials, life-cycle cost factors and costs of operation and maintenance of the facility.

In a price-based competition for architectural and engineering services, potential design savings to you, the owner, are likely to be more than offset by higher construction costs resulting from less than optimal design considerations.

Under budgeting in design fees can be even more costly, when one considers the life span of a construction project. The life-cycle, or life-span, of a building or engineering project is generally about 40 years, and negotiated design fees are usually less than one percent of a project’s total life-cycle cost; the other 99 percent are maintenance and operating costs. But the expertise of architects and engineers and the time spent in examining alternatives in, for example, energy use, can have a dramatic effect on maintenance and operating costs year after year.
A detailed discussion of the project scope and your expectations will enable the architect or engineer to develop as accurate a professional service budget as possible. Budget comparisons can then be made with past successful projects of a similar nature that you or others have undertaken.
If for any reason you can’t reach agreement on the scope of work and compensation, negotiations with the top-ranked firm are formally terminated. This rarely happens, but if it does, the agency then enters into negotiations with the second ranked firm. The process is repeated until agreement is reached.
This is still considered a submission of a price in a competitive process and is considered a bid.
The delivery of unit prices as a response to a Request for Proposals identifies relative information with respect to general fees and is not specific to tasks related to the project. The submission of a fee or rate schedule is acceptable, but not with an estimate of man-hours, which can be easily correlated to a fixed price or a bid.
Yes, an emergency, acts of God or a time in which the consultant must be called in for immediate performance of task to eliminate danger are exemptions. It is best to obtain the exemption in writing from the State of Colorado.
Price should not be given until the consultant is selected for the provision of service and negotiations are entered into to establish fee.

Need More Help?

QBS Colorado Coalition
800 Grant Street, Ste. 100
Denver CO 80203-2944
Tel: (303)832-2200
Fax: (303)832-0400

Back to Top

QBS Colorado Coalition

800 Grant Street, Suite 100 Denver CO 80203-2944 Tel: (303) 832-2200 Fax: (303) 832-0400 E-mail:

Support QBS Colorado Coalition

To support QBS Colorado Coalition through a Board or Affiliate Membership, please CLICK HERE.