Looking for quality in an engineering consultant
A qualified consulting engineer can make the difference between a successful project and years of hassles. However, it can be difficult for local governments to discern whether a consultant submitting a proposal has the needed expertise and business practices.
To choose the best consultant for a project, local governments officials and their staffs should consider the following danger areas and criteria: Expertise. Some consultants submit proposals for work in which they have little or no experience. That behavior is common with local consultants who have traditionally performed development work and want to branch into municipal work. Checking references for projects listed on proposals can give decision-makers a clearer picture of the consultants’ expertise.
Personnel. Consultants may list on their proposals staff that will never be assigned to the project. Local governments can safeguard their projects by stipulating that only people committed to the project can be named on the proposal, and they should include penalties for consultants who violate that clause.
Reputation. A poor working relationship with other consultants is a strike against a candidate. The local government’s engineering and construction staffs often are aware of problems and should be solicited for input. The staff also can provide information on the consultant’s reputation for integrity. The technical staffs of neighboring cities and counties also can be good sources of information.
Performance history. The consultant’s history of meeting expectations and time and budget constraints on similar projects can be checked by contacting references.
Accessibility. The availability of the consultant and staff can affect communications and deadlines. However, local officials need not restrict themselves to local consultants. An out-of-town consultant with established methods of communications, quick response time and a good track record with other governments may be as accessible as the consultant next door.
After the consultant is selected, local governments have a right to expect appropriate communication and attention to problems. For example, they should expect the consultant to:
* anticipate issues and try to provide a 10- to 30-day look ahead to keep officials apprised of any post-design issues.
* communicate directly with the project manager. Confusion occurs when communication goes directly to operations, management or the engineering staff and not through the project manager. It is important to follow the established communication links because many contractors take advantage of discourse and/or confusion between owner and consultant.
* take responsibility for correcting errors and omissions in the contract drawings and other documents. Errors within the contract drawings should be corrected at the consultant’s expense; omissions would have been paid for as a part of the bid are the owner’s responsibility. The consultant should keep the client informed and provide the appropriate documentation for omitted items that should have been included in the bid. A fixed contingency line item account within the bid will cover any omissions.
Consultants can enhance the value of local government construction projects, provided that governments choose their engineering consultants wisely. A little time spent systematically investigating consultants who submit proposals can significantly improve the chances for a successful project.
This article was written by Frederick Bloetscher, director of engineering, operations and planning for the Florida Governmental Utility Authority, Dania Beach, Fla.