Think you have what it takes to take on the government as your client? You’ll have to be patient, it can be tough to win a government contract, but when you do you could be in for some big payoffs. Government agencies literally generate thousands of contracts daily. A fraction of those are Department of Transportation (DOT) contracts, which often entail land surveying. It can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to find these contracts let alone sift through them. And once you have found a contract that looks interesting to you, then what? There is plenty of opportunity in the public sector—you’ve just got to know how to take advantage of it.
Finding the Contract of Your DreamsPublic Law 92-582, known as the Brooks Act, requires the federal government to make public all architectural and engineering (including land surveying) projects available and to provide a fair bidding process for both public and private entities.
The Internet has become perhaps the best forum for spreading contract bids. The FedBizOpps (Federal Business Opportunities) website (www.fedbizopps.gov) lists notices of proposed government procurement actions, contract awards and other information. All federal procurement offices are required to announce in FedBizOpps, at least 15 days before issuance of a solicitation, virtually all proposed procurement actions over $25,000. Updated every business day, approximately 500-1,000 notices are posted daily and each notice lists the buying agency interested in buying that particular product or service. If you are looking to work for the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), visit the FedBizOpps site religiously.
To start your search, go to www.fedbizopps.com and click on Find Business Opportunities. Type in a key word such as land survey and enter other criteria to further customize your search, such as location. Click Start Search, to bring up all federal business opportunities that fit your search. The listing is organized by date posted, starting with the most recent. It lists the agency the contract is through, such as the Department of Transportation or the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the office location, the date posted, type, title and the solicitation number (SOL). Each listing will have a synopsis or amendment link. Click on one of these to access detailed information about a contract. The synopsis should contain the requirements for the project as well as evaluation criteria and submittal requirements. You can also sign up by E-mail to receive specific opportunities that meet your criteria.
Architecture and Engineering ServicesArchitect-Engineer services are related to construction, alteration, or repair of buildings, bridges, roadways, or other kinds of structures and utility systems. Accordingly, surveying falls under this category.
Federal government contracting for A&E services follows a special procedure and is based on an evaluation of the qualifications of interested firms. The evaluation is performed by an A&E Evaluation Board, which selects a minimum of three firms for interview discussions with the Board. For some projects the firms selected for interviews may also be required to prepare written information pertaining to, among other things, relevant experience, technical approach, project schedule and key personnel.
The Board recommends to the appropriate DOT official at least three firms, in order of preference, considered best qualified to perform the required work. Negotiations are conducted with the firm given first preference. If a mutually satisfactory contract cannot be agreed to, negotiations are then initiated with the firm given second preference on the list. Generally, this procedure continues until a contract has been negotiated.
Architect-engineer qualification data is maintained on file by each Operating Administration within the department. Firms may file data at the headquarters or field installation procurement offices where they desire to do business. This data should be prepared using General Services Administration (GSA) Standard Form 254, “Architect-Engineer and Related Services Questionnaire,” which provides a uniform presentation of a firm's general qualifications.
FedBizOpps announcements invite interested qualified firms to submit GSA Standard Form 254 “Architect-Engineering and Related Services Questionnaire” if one is not already on file, and GSA Standard Form 255, “Architect-Engineer Related Services for Specific Project,” which provides detailed information on a firm’s qualifications for a particular project. These forms are obtainable from any federal government procurement office and are also downloadable from various sites on the Internet.
SubcontractingGovernment agencies are also required to publish information on subcontracting opportunities, including the names and addresses of firms awarded contracts over $25,000 that are likely to result in subcontracts. The solicitations must allow at least 30 days for prospective contractors to respond (45 days to respond to research and development proposals).
Land surveying firms are often not large enough to be the prime contractor on many USDOT projects. Subcontracting offers a viable alternative. Many of the project synopses will list surveying as one of the many aspects of the project. In these cases a land surveying firm would serve as a subcontractor to the prime contractor. It’s a good idea to make the larger firms that often serve as prime contractors in your area aware of your capabilities so they keep you in mind when a project comes up requiring your particular expertise.
The government has no contractual relationship with subcontractors to its prime contractors. Therefore, as a subcontractor agreement is with the prime contractor, not the government agency that the prime has contracted with.
In deciding whether to use a sub and which sub is right for the job, primes look at a variety of issues. Will the technology or knowledge needed require sub? Does the potential subcontractor have the needed technical ability and qualifications to do the work? Prime contractors look for subcontractors that can help them hold up their end of the bargain and make the contract flow smoothly. “By teaming up with other firms such as other surveying, engineering, aerial mapping and prime construction firms as a sub-consultant one particular surveying firm has a much greater chance of being awarded sub-consultant, work through the prime consultant,” says Daniel Smith of the project development R.O.W./survey plans department of the Colorado DOT (CDOT).
Working for State DOTsMost state DOTs spread the word about their available contracts electronically, similar to the federal government’s methods. Usually, the federal government gives states the funds and the states do the contracting. Almost every state DOT website has a link entitled “Doing Business with DOT” or something similar. However, some still use traditional print means of publicizing their opportunities. Surveying is often found under the architectural and engineering category of work. It can also be found under construction or engineering/professional services.
According to the Federal Highway Association (FHWA), states are allowed to use various selection methods to choose contractors, such as qualification-based, competitive proposals, non-competitive proposals (sole source), a combination of qualifications-based and competitive (two-step) procurement, sealed bid, small purchase order or other methods allowed by state law and procedures. Most states have laws that set the parameters for state procurement. The use of qualifications-based procurement for right of way services is acceptable if a state’s own procurement procedures allow such selection criteria.
Surveyors can work directly for state DOTs or indirectly. For example, the Missouri DOT (MoDOT) employs a number of on-staff surveyors (licensed and unlicensed) and it also outsources survey work by contracting directly with consultant surveyors to furnish survey services for design staff to use. MoDOT has also contacted surveyors that had expressed an interest in working in specific counties to locate United States Public Land Survey System (PLSS) corners. Surveyors can work indirectly for MoDOT by subcontracting with a consultant that has contracted to provide photogrammetry, design and/or survey services and/or by working for construction contractors required to do their own staking (excluding boundary work).
All states have different requirements for which surveys must be performed by a licensed land surveyor and which can be performed by engineers and other non-survey licensed individuals. In Colorado for example, any survey that ties into or uses any boundary control monument must be performed by a Colorado registered professional land surveyor. All other survey work needs to be reviewed to determine exactly what type of survey needs to be performed, which in turn will determine whether a registered land surveyor is required or not. For instance, construction staking does not require a PLS. However, if a control monument or boundary corner is disturbed or needs to be reset, a PLS would be required to perform the task. This type of situation arises frequently and usually the services of a PLS are required.
In Missouri, surveys are classified as either engineering surveys or boundary surveys. Engineering surveys can be performed by registered or non-registered survey personnel. Boundary survey work must be performed by, or supervised by, a Missouri licensed/registered professional land surveyor.
Qualification Based Selection:Qualification-based selection is a process to provide a fair and rational procedure for obtaining the services of qualified architects, engineers and land surveyors based on professional qualifications, at a fair and reasonable cost. By using a QBS process the government agency selects a firm based on qualifications rather than bidding.
More Bang for Their Buck
- Request for Qualifications (RFQ) Under the qualification-based selection method, a government agency would issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to all prequalified firms. According to the Idaho QBS Facilitator Council guidelines, the RFQ should specify the background information a firm must provide in order to qualify for the project and should also include a brief project description, scope of work and the selection criteria by which the firms will be judged. Typically, this includes factors such as qualifications of key personnel and relevant experience. So that the agency that is evaluating and ranking the submittals can do so fairly, the RFQ should require all submittals to require a standard set of information. Usually this will include such things as a firm history and capability to perform a project; qualifications of project team; relevant project team; relevant project experience; familiarity with area and project; and a project approach and schedule. An RFQ should not ask firms to quote a price for their services since at this stage of the selection process the scope of work has not been defined in enough detail to allow for a meaningful fee estimate. Price should be negotiated after services are clearly defined.
- Submissions Once the government agency receives all the responses to the RFQ, references are checked and submissions are reviewed. The RFQs are then ranked based on the criteria defined. Selection criteria is usually weighed according to relative importance. After several of the highest ranking firms have been chosen, interviews will be conducted with an appointed selection committee where firms may be asked to make a brief presentation covering relevant experience, understanding of project requirements, etc. At the conclusion of the interviews, the firms are ranked in order of preference by the selection committee who makes recommendations to the elected official or final decision-maker.
- Interviews A meeting is then scheduled with the top-ranked firm to negotiate a final scope of work and other contract terms. After this is carefully determined the parties can begin to negotiate a fair and reasonable price. If an agreement cannot be reached, negotiations with this firm are terminated and the government agency moves onto the second-ranked firm and so on.
Qualification based selection is not the opposite of competition, nor does it eliminate it. The first-ranked firm knows there are several qualified firms ready and waiting to accept the job if its own price is too high. This actually ensures the government a fair price, as opposed to a low-bid process where all the bids come in over the project budget requiring a whole new bidding cycle. A “low-baller” might undercut legitimate bids and then attempt to make up profit through change orders once the contract is executed or by cutting corners and reducing quality. In this system price is an important consideration but is evaluated in terms of value for service.
According to James Steele, division administrator at the FHWA Michigan Field Office, the initial contract in Michigan is selected under Qualification Based Selection (QBS) and then the proposals are reviewed and evaluated.
In Colorado, firms are chosen through a process of an internal review and scoring of the statement of interest (SOI) submitted by the pre-qualified surveying firms. CDOT awards points during the SOI review and scoring process for a prime consultant who identifies in its SOI to sub out a minimum percentage of work to an Underutilized Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (UDBE) and Emerging Small Business (ESB). In most cases, in order for a surveying firm to submit an SOI for a professional service contract they must first be pre-qualified. Prequalification of surveying firms involves completing forms that reveal details about a business and other information pertinent to the department the firm is interested in contracting with.
Many states that are prohibited from using qualifications-based procurement have found they can use the two-step process that combines qualifications-based negotiation with competitive bids. It qualifies as a competitive negotiation method. The first phase starts with a request for proposals (RFPs). Discussions regarding qualifications, staffing, scheduling, delivery of a quality product and work experience occur during the first phase. Often, three to five of the most qualified contractors are selected and are asked to submit a bid. The second step, the bidding process, qualifies this method as a competitive negotiation procurement.
Steps to Fulfill Your Contract
- Reread the Contract. After being awarded a contract, read the provisions. Recheck everything. Make sure you haven’t missed anything and you are fully aware of its details.
- Develop a Timeline. Include for each phase of the project: A detailed description of what is to be accomplished; Who is responsible for fulfilling that phase; Resources required; The estimated budget to fulfill that phase.
- List Necessary Resources. List all the resources you’ll need to successfully fulfill your contract. This list evolves from the timeline. For each item, note whether it is available in-house. If not, identify where to get the item, how much it will cost and when you have to obtain it. Again, the timeline indicates when the resource must be available.
- Develop a Detailed Budget. This should correspond to the timeline, listing your resources and when you need to have capital available for fulfilling each phase of the contract. Be very careful with this phase.
- Maintain Your Paperwork. Be sure to maintain all the proper documentation in the fulfillment of the project. A paper trail is important; without one, it’s difficult to prove anything. And when working for the government, it is best to avoid an audit altogether. Do your homework, abide by the agency’s accountability procedures and perform a quality contract.
- Review your Quality Control Program. Make sure procedures are in place and are adequate to guarantee that proper safety and surveying methods are implemented. You want return business. You’ll get it if you provide the quality work that follows quality project management.
ConclusionKnowing how to find a contract that fits your business is the first step in winning government contracts. The key factor is diligence on the part of the contractor or subcontractor. Understanding the selection process(es) used by your state or whatever government agency you are contracting through, will help you gain an edge over your competition, as you will know what they are looking for and what you can provide. DOTs were established to ensure fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation systems. You can help them achieve their goals, and make some profits along the way.