Colorado Public Works Journal, Fall 2019

48 Colorado Public Works Journal ACEC ENGINEERING FORWARD The Critical Role of Consulting Engineers in Delivering Projects By: Marilen Reimer, CAE (ACEC Colorado Executive Director) The consulting engineering industry plays an essential role in helping agencies deliver critical services to the taxpayer. Engineering firms design solutions to evaluate the safety and sustainability of roads, bridges, water systems and overall infrastructure. Consulting engi- neers work every day to solve public policy challenges and improve the quality-of-life for every resident. The private sector brings the in- novation, expertise, on-time delivery and long-term cost savings necessary to ensure that taxpayer dollars are well invested. It benefits the taxpayer when public agencies take advantage of the technical expertise that the consulting engineering community offers. Some agencies and decision-makers have made unsubstantiated claims about the cost of using private firms as compared to in-house employees and about the lack of accountability for the work per- formed. Contrary to these claims, there are numerous studies that il- lustrate why private sector engineering services are crucial for delivering innovative, on-time and on-budget projects to the public. For example: • Contracting out allows the agencies to expand their design capa- bilities without having to maintain those capabilities when they are not needed. By contracting out the agency can address their work- load with the specialized expertise needed for that specific project for a determined length of time and budget. The taxpayer’s dollars can go further by contracting out for the expertise because once the project is done, the project team is done; and taxpayer dollars are not spent on idle staff. • Agencies are in a better place to manage their risk. Risk transfers to the consulting engineering firm that now takes on the responsibil- ity and control of the design. However, it is vital to have good insur- able contract language for the design professionals’ professional liability insurance coverage to benefit the agency, the firm and the taxpayer. • Consulting engineering firms are in a better place to handle fluctu- ating workloads due to emerging needs and are able to ramp up quickly to deliver and assess projects in a timely manner. This lowers lifecycle costs and provides increased value to the taxpayer. Marilen Reimer • Consulting engineers are highly accountable to their clients and to taxpayers. Agency project managers oversee consultants’ work and contracts—including all billings, change orders and final work prod- ucts—and firms are subject to frequent audits. Market forces also promote cost competitiveness. Studies have shown the value of using a qualifications-based selection (QBS) process to select design firms based on experience and expertise. The American Public Works Association (APWA) recommends that design professional services always be obtained through a QBS procurement process. The QBS procurement process ensures that the most capable and experienced firms are hired to deliver projects to the public, whereas no comparable evaluation is done when the decision is made to do the design work in house. Using in-house staff might be considered “sole-source” contracting, • Consulting engineering firms have an incentive to do high-quality work and close out a project quickly so that they are available for these and other clients to hire them for future projects. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, as licensed professional engineers and professional land surveyors, these consultants are subject to health, safety and welfare regulations in the interest of the public. Agencies have expressed that their staffing constraints and the need for specialized skills or resources are the top reasons for turning to the private sector. Contracting out provides innovation, expertise and efficiency when in-house employees are not available or able to take on a project. Cost effectiveness is assessed when considering the ability of consulting engineers to deliver the project in a successful and timely manner. As taxpayers we all care that the public dollars are used wisely. Using consulting engineering firms to accelerate projects is good for government and good for taxpayers. Therefore, lawmakers and decision-makers should reject the calls for limitations on the ability of agencies to use the experience and expertise of these engineers to deliver quality services in a timely and cost-effec- tive manner. The author Marilen Reimer is executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Colorado.