Qualifications-Based Selection of Professional Services

Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) for professional design services has been required on the federal and state levels for many years. Practically all professional societies and associations have information about QBS. In addition, many states have statewide QBS committees and organizations supported by that state’s professional associations. A search on the Internet will yield hundreds of sources of information on QBS.

Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) Seminars were presented by Catherine Fritz, AIA, Janet Matheson, AIA, and Colin Maynard, PE, on November 9, 2013, at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Alaska Chapter annual convention, and on December 6, 2013, at the Council of Educational Facility Planners (CEFPI) annual conference.

Sessions included extensive discussions of existing QBS State of Alaska and municipal statutes regulating design professional selection, and of guidelines for preparing and scoring proposals that require basic QBS information.

The QBS seminar materials are posted on the APDC, AIA and other websites to provide educational information for Alaska design professional firms and project managers with public agencies needing guidance on QBS procurement:

AK AIA QBS Presentation 11-9-2013

CEFPI QBS Presentation 12-6-2013

2013 QBS Flyer

QBS Laws and Regulations

Sample RFP Using QBS

What is QBS?

Qualifications-Based Selection is a process of choosing a professional design firm for a project. The decision is based on a list of criteria, not on price. The list can include the ability of the firm, the work plan, schedule, availability, management plan, references, and experience of the firm as a whole and of the individuals proposed. Each owner chooses any or all of these criteria and weights them according to project needs. For example, if the design has to be completed in a short time, schedule and availability could be weighted higher than experience. If it’s a complex project, especially one that hasn’t been done before, specific experience might not apply, so the work plan might be most important. There are all types of variations in requests for proposals (RFPs) depending completely on the owner or the RFP preparer.

When the proposals are received, a selection committee grades each proposal and generally negotiates both a detailed scope of work and a fee with the highest ranked proposer. In the unlikely event that an owner and the top-ranked design firm cannot reach agreement, the owner can negotiate with the next highest proposer.

Alaska Law

State of Alaska requirements for QBS are outlined in Alaska Statute (AS) 35.30.270. The QBS excerpt from Alaska Statutes attached in pdf format includes a link to search Alaska Statutes online.

The Difference between a Bid and a Fee

When construction contractors bid on a job, they have thorough, detailed and quantifiable criteria on which to place a price. The bid documents tell them exactly how many and what type of windows and doors, quality and quantity of materials and equipment, the type and color of the finishes, etc. At bid opening, the owner knows that the building will look the same no matter who constructs it. Therefore, it comes down to who can construct the building for the least amount of money.

Purchasing design services, however, without benefit of a detailed scope of work, detailed scope of services, and a face-to-face negotiation is not quantifiable because a broad RFP is so open to interpretation. The types of services the owner is expecting may be interpreted differently by each firm proposing. Therefore, when owners compares fees for professional services, they more than likely end up comparing apples to nuts. A lower fee generally means fewer services or a lower level of service. If the owner accepts the fee and then realizes that a need for services that were not included, the contract must be amended and costs rise. In fact, in Maryland, they discovered that using fee-based selection actually cost the owners more than a qualifications-based selection.

Negotiating a firm scope of work with the highest ranked design firm and a corresponding fair cost for those services is the best way for owners to get what they are expecting: a quality design at a reasonable price.

QBS Sources

There are many sources for QBS materials on the Internet. In fact, going to http://www.google.com and searching for "qualifications based selection" will get hundreds of hits. Listed below are just a few of the many sources for QBS information. Listed below are links to some of the QBS resources available.

New York State QBS Resources: http://www.nysqbs.org/resources.asp

QBS Wisconsin: http://www.qbswi.org/

NSPE QBS: http://www.nspe.org/GovernmentRelations/TakeAction/IssueBriefs/ib_qbs.html

Owner’s Handbook – Qualifications Based Selection, American Council of Engineering Companies of Arizona: http://www.acecaz.org/pdfs/QualificationsBasedSelectionManual.pdf

American Public Works Association: http://www.apwa.net/Documents/Advocacy/Positions/Advocacy/Qualifications_Based_Selec_Prof_Svs_Consult.pdf

Qualifications-Based Selection: A Guide Including Model Local Government Policy and Procedures for Selecting Architects, Engineers and Land Surveyors: http://www.acec.org/advocacy/committees/pdf/qbs_guide.pdf



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Updated: Monday, January 06, 2014