I’m a Civil Engineer. We Civils design major works that are used by society to survive.
Transportation facilities (railways, roads, terminal buildings, bridges); environmental facilities (water treatment plants, water distribution systems, storm sewers, storm management facilities, sanitary sewers, sewage treatment plants); Buildings (heating, lighting, air conditioning, structural capacity) etc, etc, etc.
In the public sphere, the demands for open, transparent and equitable our governments insist on requiring Engineers to bid for work. The intent is to save money. That’s a false premise.
Say an Engineering firm is selected by competitive bids to design a $1,000,000 bridge. The various firms submitting prices varied from $40,000 to $60,000 for design and $45,000 to $70,000 for field supervision of the construction. The maximum difference in Engineering fees would be $45,000 or about 53% (using the lowest fee as the base). Forty- five percent sounds like a huge amount to save. But is it a savings.
Engineering fees are largely determined by time spent designing. A low fee thus means fewer hours spent thinking about the problem and designing or on less skilled personnel.
Construction costs make up a major part of the cost of the bridge. $45,000 is 4.5% of the construction cost. A skilled Engineer has more experience in designing structures that are simpler to construct and utilize materials more efficiently. They would be more up to date on advances in materials and methods. A good design can easily save 4.5% over a less efficient design.
After the contractor is selected to build the bridge, the Engineering firm then supervises the work. Skilled knowledgeable field staff can anticipate problems, take appropriate action if changes are required and assure the owner that the structure has been built properly. Again experienced, capable field staff are most often paid more. They; however, can easily save money by timely decisions and proper oversight.
Choosing a skilled properly paid Engineering firm can easily save any extra money paid them compared to retaining a just adequate company at a reduced cost just in construction costs.
A large cost of many public works is the ongoing maintenance costs. A design that considers ongoing maintenance can save the owner much more cash than the amount paid the designer and possibly by designing for optimal performance significantly more money than any increase in fees.
Recent evidence given by an Engineer from the Gatineau in Quebec brought this dilemma to public light. Firms in that area got together to at least maintain the fees being paid at a level where the companies could provide adequate Engineering.
Engineers are required by their enabling legislation to protect the public. We protect the public from our employers (who don’t always like spending enough money). There is a cost for the proper Engineering required to provide this protection.
A bit of a story.
I need a bit of dental work. I went on line, did a search and figured out what needed to be done. I then took out my yellow pages and got a list of dentists. These dentists were sent a request for a price to do the work. I chose the one who submitted the lowest price. Yeah right.
Why do governments insist on choosing Engineering services with low bid methods.