NSPE Urges Revisions to QBS, Environmental Practices

 

May 2011

NSPE TODAY: POLICY PERSPECTIVES
NSPE Urges Revisions to QBS, Environmental Practices

BY SARAH OGDEN

TransportationWithout a strong infrastructure, our national economic position, including our workforce, production, health, safety, and overall welfare is at risk. Professional engineers play a key role in the planning, design, implementation, construction, operation, and maintenance of this infrastructure. So when the Department of Transportation became one of the first agencies to initiate a regulatory review in response to President Obama's January Executive Order 13563, NSPE sprang into action. The order requires every federal agency to review its existing regulations and determine whether regulations are effectively promoting economic growth, job creation, and competitiveness without being unduly burdensome.

NSPE surveyed 10,000 members to pinpoint the regulations of greatest concern to the engineering profession, then filed comments with the DOT on a range of topics, including the Federal Highway Administration's and Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) inconsistent application of qualifications-based selection, the environmental clearance process, FHWA's conflict of interest policy, inconsistent models of quality assurance across the DOT, and outdated pipeline safety standards. NSPE then spoke at a DOT meeting led by DOT General Counsel Robert Rivkin and attended by a panel of the DOT components' general counsels and senior staff.

NSPE member Dan Tanksley, P.E., F.NSPE, a Texas-based civil engineer who serves as the general counsel of Halff Associates, represented NSPE at the meeting. He commended the DOT for its history of leadership, recognized its integral role in the American economy, and emphasized that NSPE would be pleased to assist the DOT as the agency continues to streamline its regulations. Tanksley then highlighted two issues of concern to NSPE:

Currently, FHWA and FTA Use QBS Only on Construction-Related Contracts.
QBS is a keystone issue of NSPE. The Brooks Act (PL 92-582) requires federal agencies to use QBS when procuring architectural and engineering services; however, FHWA and FTA guidance documents state that QBS is necessary only if engineering services directly relate to construction. This is based on an incomplete reading of the Brooks Act and the mistaken assumption that all engineering services involving real property must be directly related to construction. NSPE recommended that FHWA and FTA amend their guidelines to comply fully with the Brooks Act.

The Environmental Clearance Process is Excessively Long.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires the DOT to evaluate the potential impact of its proposed projects on the environment. Before any work on projects may begin, the DOT, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency, must issue environmental clearances. Unfortunately, obtaining these clearances takes from six months for a categorical exclusion to a minimum of two years for an environmental assessment and even longer for an environmental impact statement. Although NSPE supports protecting the public health and safety through the responsible application of National Environmental Policy Act standards, NSPE believes that the environmental clearance process could be streamlined.

NSPE recommended the following: streamlining the environmental clearance process by transferring environmental review responsibilities entirely to the state DOT unless an environmental impact statement is required; replacing sequential reviews with a single joint review or charrette; emphasizing substantive environmental issues rather than superficial issues, such as document formatting and subjective language modifications, which have no bearing on decision-making; eliminating the requirement for indirect and cumulative impacts analyses in all categorical exclusion documents, regardless of whether the project is adding capacity; and accepting electronic submissions of documents.

NSPE believes that resolving these and the issues addressed in the written comments will improve the nation's transportation system, benefiting the public's health, safety, and welfare.

Read NSPE's comments in their entirety at http://1.usa.gov/hPGYh5.

For NSPE's position statement on infrastructure, visit http://www.nspe.org/IssuesandAdvocacy/TakeAction/PositionStatements/ps_inf.html.