As part of a recently launched pilot project, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has issued its first request for proposals using qualifications-based selection (QBS) for the procurement of architects and engineers on federal projects.
“That’s a very significant milestone and a significant step forward for the federal government in recognizing the potential benefits of QBS,” said John Gamble, president and CEO of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies — Canada (ACEC).
“For decades we and other associations representing professional service firms, particularly architects and engineers, have made the argument that qualifications-based selection is a far superior procurement method.
“However, for some procurement officials it has been viewed as counter intuitive because they are used to going strictly on price. Price is still an important factor in QBS but it is introduced in context of the outcome.”
The project for the pilot is the Alexandra Bridge boardwalk grating replacement and articulations retrofit in Ottawa/Gatineau.
According to a description on Buyandsell.gc.ca, Public Works and Government Services Canada intends to retain a bridge engineering consulting firm with experience in steel truss bridges, in the capacity of prime consultant, supported by a multidisciplinary team of sub consultants. The construction budget is estimated at $32.3 million.
“The scope includes, but is not limited to, the replacement of the upstream boardwalk steel grating deck, rehabilitation of the deck flooring system, an articulation retrofit and various steel repairs on the bridge,” states the website.
We want the government to recognize that it is in fact giving them a better outcome by using QBS
— John Gamble
Association of Consulting Engineering Companies — Canada
Stage one of the process involves technical evaluation and stage two is the project review and discussion which includes refining requirements and the price proposal.
ACEC, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and other stakeholders have been lobbying the federal government for years to implement QBS as a substitute for price-based contracting, stating there is a strong business case and it delivers much better value than traditional procurement methods. Historically, there has been some reluctance on the part of the government because of the lack of familiarity, Gamble noted.
“When Arianne Reza came on board as the (PSPC) assistant deputy minister, part of her mandate was to modernize procurement and look at how to better leverage the government’s investments through procurement to create better outcomes, more innovation and better value for taxpayers,” explained Gamble. “Through a series of meetings with her and senior department officials, we made the case to them about why this is worth exploring.”
A consultation process was held in February and March with a request for information. The government received a strong response from the sector in support of the benefits of QBS, Gamble noted. That is one of the reasons PSPC decided to proceed with the pilot.
“This was a long time coming and it took some work. It took some leadership within PSPC because this is a very different way of doing procurement,” said Gamble. “There is a tendency in some public organizations, not all, but some, to think of professional services as a commodity rather than a value-added service. The real thing about QBS is you use your consultant not as an expense to be minimized but rather as an investment to be leveraged.”
Gamble likens hiring professional services to a job interview process.
“When you hire people, what you do is you advertise the opportunity, you shortlist, you interview the top ranked candidates and then you make a decision of who is the best fit with our organization, who understands our objectives and who is going to bring value to our organization and then you negotiate salary and terms,” said Gamble.
“Qualifications-based selection is very much like that. It’s not a blank cheque. The government will act within a certain budget and the idea is to get the most qualified team for that particular project at that particular time that will bring the most value to the project and be able to get the best return on the budgeted investment that the government is making.”
QBS has a proven track record and has been effective in other jurisdictions such as the United States and in Calgary, Gamble stated.
“In the United States, where the federal government has mandated the use of QBS for over 40 years, they have shown very strong evidence that the use of QBS, particularly for engineers and architects, has had significant impacts on reducing both schedule and cost overruns and a significantly higher satisfaction with the project outcomes,” said Gamble.
“We want the government to recognize that it is in fact giving them a better outcome by using QBS. If they can implement this properly, they will find that they will be more satisfied with the results and they will have a better relationship with their consultants. Over time they are going to achieve much better value on behalf of the taxpayers.”