Established by the federal government as part of the Brooks Act in 1972 and the Colorado Mini Brooks Bill in 1988, Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) mandates that the evaluation and selection of design professional services federally funded and state agency projects be based upon competency, qualifications and experience, rather than by price.
But despite the fact that this law was created more than 40 years ago, it remains relatively unknown by many design professionals, as well as those hiring for design services. So why is it important that architects support and encourage this practice?
“QBS procurement stimulates competition and encourages innovation within the design profession,” said My Do, AIA at Stantec. “It also pairs fair and appropriate design fees proportionally with the scope, since scope refinement and fees negotiations follow the selection of design consultants.”
Still, for agencies that are cash-strapped or simply are uncertain about how to best find and select design services, choosing architects and engineers based on the lowest price can be tempting.
That’s where the QBS Colorado Coalition comes in.
Comprised of members of AIA, American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), Professional Land Surveyors, National Society of Professional Engineers and American Society of Civil Engineers of Colorado, the QBS Colorado Coalition’s mission is to “promote quality and value in professional design services in the construction industry.”
This coalition is charged with increasing awareness around QBS, investigating selection processes and providing guidance to public and private entities.
“This past year was very exciting for QBS Colorado Coalition,” said Steve Greco, AIA, architect at Architectural Workshop and active member of both AIA Colorado and QBS Colorado Coalition. “With new members, we were able to take a more proactive approach and focus on being in front of clients—which includes municipalities, school districts and transportation projects—and expose them to the QBS process so that they have a positive experience and it becomes second nature when selecting consultants.”
Greco has served on the QBS Colorado Board for two years, as well as the QBS Colorado Coalition Steering Committee, where he championed revising the RFP response protocol. Together with the My Do and Linda Waterhouse, AIA, Greco developed a webinar presentation to be used as a resource specifically for municipalities participating in the Department of Local Affairs’ (DOLA) Main Street Program.
The Main Street Program provides support for community-led downtown revitalization in rural Colorado. Typically, these communities have smaller budgets for design services and may not be familiar with the QBS process.
“So, we decided to create a webinar that would be accessible and informative for these communities,” said Greco. “Main Street Program participants can use the webinar for information about hiring design consultants for a variety of things, including architecture, feasibility studies, signage and infrastructure.”
Earlier this month, Waterhouse co-presented the new webinar to officials at DOLA and Main Street USA.
“The countless hours and effort that Linda and Steve have volunteered to QBS Colorado Coalition is invaluable to the Colorado architecture and design professionals community because QBS matters,” Do said.
For large and small government-funded projects alike, selecting the lowest bid for design services can be incredibly costly in the long-run. It can lead to short cuts and poor design as methods for cutting costs, which has implications for durability, affordability and resilience.
“We need the best people and best products being used on projects in Colorado so that they are sustainable and have longevity,” Greco said.
But QBS is about more than just money. Case studies have shown that it results in more productive, collaborative relationships between the client and designer, allows for fair and reasonable fees and encourages competition based on merit.
Through his work with the QBS Colorado Coalition, Greco experienced the impact that architects and engineers can have when they get involved and work together. He hopes that the coalition’s work will continue to help clients through the QBS process and will inspire architects and engineers to do their best possible work.
“As architects, we need to be united first and foremost in understanding that hiring design professionals needs to be about the most qualified, not the cheapest,” said Greco. “We shouldn’t be trying to undercut each other. We should promote the importance of selecting architects based on their merits, and convey that to clients.”