Point of Beginning

Letters: Questioning QBS

January 18, 2012
I continue to be amazed at the single-mindedness of MAPPS on the issue of qualifications-based selection (QBS) (The Business of MAPPS: President’s Perspective, “How QBS Unites Us All,” Richard (Dick) W. McDonald, PLS, CP, January 2012 POB).

I continue to be amazed at the single-mindedness of MAPPS on the issue of qualifications-based selection (QBS) (The Business of MAPPS: President’s Perspective, “How QBS Unites Us All,” Richard (Dick) W. McDonald, PLS, CP, January 2012 POB). Mr. McDonald, president of MAPPS, restates the myth that the choices available are either QBS or low bid. However, between these two extremes are a variety of value-based selection (VBS) choices that allow some mixed evaluation of technical capabilities and cost--choices that MAPPS completely ignores.

VBS is a valid choice when the products or services to be acquired are well defined and commonly available. It offers a two-stage process where the top-ranked firms from a QBS-like evaluation round then undergo a value comparison where cost is a consideration but not a dominant factor.

We all find out the price before we decide what car or television to buy, judging the relative value of included product features and the cost of the goods. You would think it was a simple process to provide for the same careful evaluation when purchasing professional services, but MAPPS and others do not want us to have that option. Instead, we are required to go through a sequential process of talking to one firm at a time, with no ability to compare prices among the top-ranked firms. This process has the side effect of making it difficult for new firms to get work, as they likely do not have the many years of experience required to rank at the top in a qualifications-only procurement.

Mr. McDonald is correct that QBS unites practitioners in a variety of geospatial disciplines, but, for many of us, it unites us in opposition. Knowing the price before you buy is not a bad thing.

  --Jack A. Butler, Orlando, Fla.



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The author responds: It’s important to note that MAPPS is not the only organization that favors qualifications-based selection. ACSM, ASPRS, ASCE and ACEC have long been proponents of QBS when professional services are being procured. Additionally, the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO), which comprises more than a dozen geospatial trade associations and professional societies, has unanimously adopted a recommended procurement process that, although not named QBS, indeed bases selection on qualifications first and foremost, not price.


Surveyors are professionals along with other geospatial practitioners. Anytime a federal entity is seeking to acquire professional surveying or mapping services with federal money, QBS must be the procurement method. On this there should be no debate--quite simply, it is the law. Additionally, “Mini Brooks Acts” have been enacted in 47 states, so many state projects requiring professional surveying and mapping services must use QBS even if there is no federal money involved. Once you get down to the local government level and private industry, clients are free to use whatever method they choose for procurement of services as long as no federal funding is involved. In many states, however, localities must also follow state law.

If all clients adhered strictly to a best-value process, VBS might be more acceptable for procuring professional services. However, all too often, the client ends up being swayed by the low price in their decision-making process. Most requests for proposals that are using a best-value method of selection contain the phrase, “The client retains the right to waive any inconsistencies in a firm’s proposal.” This essentially means, “If we like your price, you may be selected even though you didn’t meet all the requirements of the RFP.”

For new firms that are trying to get work, I don’t believe that winning projects by low prices in a best-value selection is the best way to go about it. I would instead suggest looking for small business set-aside contracts and also getting on teams as a subcontractor and then performing outstanding work. This will build your resume to the point where you will be considered on QBS procurements.

When acquiring commercial off the shelf (COTS) products and product support services, VBS is indeed an acceptable method of procurement. However, when procuring professional services, it is my belief that QBS is the superior method of selection.

--Richard (Dick) W. McDonald, PLS, CP, president of MAPPS and director of geospatial services for T3 Global Strategies Inc.