Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How does qualifications-based selection work?

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.


Question: Is a two envelope system where qualifications are placed in one envelope and price is placed in the second envelope with an assurance from the public body that the price will not be opened until the selection, based on the most qualified firm, is acceptable?

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.


Question: Who uses QBS?

QBS is endorsed and promoted by the American Public Works Association, The American Institute of Architects , the American Council of Engineering Companies and the National Society of Professional Engineers.

QBS is also recommended by the American Bar Association in its model procurement codes and is currently used by most states, numerous localities and private owners.

State of North Dakota agencies use the QBS process to select A/E firms.

Since 1972, with passage of the Brooks Act , the federal government requires QBS for its A/E services procurement.


Question: Are there exemptions for special conditions?

 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 appropriate governing body.


Question: Does qualifications-based selection increase project costs?

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.


Question: Does the qualifications-based selection and negotiation method lead to political favoritism?

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. 


Question: Does this process inhibit competition?

No. It simply focuses competition for professional services on the most meaningful factors: qualifications, competence, previous performance and availability.


Question: During a short list or interview type of arrangement, if the interviewing party requests a price, is the consultant free to give a price at this time?

Price should not be given until the consultant is selected for the provision of service and negotiations are entered into to establish fee.


Question: How are architectural and engineering firms retained?
Answer: 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.


Question: How do I know I'm getting a fair price?

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.


Question: Is the qualifications-based selection and negotiation procedure consistent with competitive procedures?

Yes. It is a generally accepted concept that public procurement should be a on a competitive basis. This 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.


Question: Isn't price a factor in the selection process?

Yes. However, 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. 


Question: What about life-cycle costs?

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.


Question: What does the term "scope of work" mean?

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.


Question: What happens if there is a lack of agreement during negotiations?

 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.