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Local leaders chafe at QBS bill

By Paul Snyder

Architectural and engineering selection based on qualifications rather than bids is a great option but a dangerous law, according to municipal leaders opposing a bill that would force the issue.

Hiring discretion should be left to municipalities because they are more qualified than the state to make decisions for local projects, said Larry Bierke, Mount Horeb village administrator.

“The bottom line is they can’t manage themselves,” he said of state lawmakers, “so why the hell should they be managing us instead?”

The bill would require qualifications-based selection whenever a local government hires a consultant to plan a project with a value of at least $250,000 and using any amount of state money. QBS is used to select architects, engineers and land surveyors based on qualifications for a project, not merely on the low bid.

Bill author state Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, was unavailable for comment Monday.

The local resistance was expected, said bill co-sponsor state Rep. Mark Gottlieb, R-Port Washington. But if those governments already use QBS, he said, it is difficult to understand why a state law would be a problem.

Furthermore, he said, the bill does not require QBS on every local project.

“The applicability of it is only on projects when state money is involved,” Gottlieb said. “I don’t think there’s a question of whether or not it’s a good process. The state uses it, (the Wisconsin Department of Transportation) uses it.”

Gottlieb in 2007 introduced a similar bill that passed the state Assembly but stalled in a Senate committee.

The Wisconsin League of Municipalities opposed the bill in 2007 and likely will do so again, said Executive Director Dan Thompson.

“We’ve been supportive of QBS in the past, and we’ve encouraged our members to use it,” he said. “I think a lot of our members do use it. But requiring it seems a little too much.”

City planners and engineers from Fitchburg, Middleton, Eau Claire and Mount Horeb said they use QBS or similar processes for major projects. In fact, Fitchburg City Engineer Paul Woodard said the city uses QBS on 75 percent of its projects.

“But the question is: Why are we passing a law if it’s something we already do?” he said. “What kind of bureaucratic levels are added if it becomes law? How much more paperwork is there to do? Is there someone from the state who’s going to have to add another level of approvals?

“If this means waiting another three weeks to go on a project, then that’s a problem.”

Middleton City Engineer Shawn Stauske said if state money means required QBS, the city might stop asking for the money on some projects.

The bill does not lay out a state review of consultant selection, and Gottlieb said he does not think making QBS law would delay local projects. He said he would be surprised if municipalities stopped seeking financial assistance.

“I guess that idea is predicated on the notion that QBS is bad to do,” he said.

Governments do not dispute the QBS practice, Bierke said. They just resent a law that removes local authority.

“Maybe,” he said, “they should be asking us what we want them to do.”

One comment

  1. The QBS System is a good system and has its place, however it very much favors large firms that can show many similar projects, often including ones designed by staff members no longer at the firm. It makes it very difficult for “upstart” firm who may be just as qualified but cannot produce a large portfolio of their own independent projects. While they may show some work as individual experiece I believe that is often overlooked in the review process.

    The upstarts best tool is a bid situation where they may be able to give a more competitive price due to lower overhead and may actually bring more hours and specific experience than the larger firms team members.

    I do not oppose QBS but let the actual user determine the proper approach for his/her project. QBS can be detrimental to the development of new design firms that we will need in the future

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