Design/Build in the Public Sector

NSPE Position Statement No. 1726
Adopted: July 1995

Latest Revision: April 2013

NSPE recognizes that more than one project delivery system may meet an owner's project requirements. Factors such as safety, function, time from conception to completion, capital and life-cycle costs, environmental quality, and appearance will each play a role in the owner's decision. Accordingly, NSPE acknowledges the role these factors play and neither advocates nor opposes design-build.

NSPE, in any public sector design-build project, strongly recommends that the procurement of design-build services always follow the two-phase selection process defined by the Federal Acquisition Reform Act of 1996. NSPE believes that qualifications should play a significant role in this selection process and that factors other than construction costs must be evaluated. 

Design-build has significantly changed the professional engineer's relationship with the owner. Historically, engineers have been selected and retained directly by the owner. Professional engineers were also directly accountable to the owner under traditional project delivery methods. Design-build has placed two or more steps between engineers and owners, eroding the direct relationship and accountability between engineers and owners. This strains the ability to communicate and can have important consequences on a project and ethical dilemmas for the professional engineer.

The procurement phase of a design-build project requires significant effort by the design-build team to demonstrate both quantitatively and qualitatively what is to be built and the gross maximum price of the project. Very often in design-build projects, design professionals prepare written and drawn documents "at risk" rather than for the customary fee. Despite the minimal or complete lack of compensation for documents, unsuccessful design professionals' ideas and concepts are often incorporated into the final project by the owner and successful teams. NSPE believes that all design professionals should be compensated for the use of their intellectual property.

In conclusion, NSPE believes that the relationship between the design professional and the owner is important and should not be removed from a project. NSPE believes that qualifications-based selection should be utilized in public sector design-build projects. NSPE also believes that an undue share of the pre-procurement risk in the design-build process is borne by professional engineers and other design professionals. Too often the intellectual property rights of professional engineers and other design professionals are ignored in the design-build process. NSPE believes that enabling legislation for design-build in the public sector should address compensation for the disproportionate share of the procurement risk placed on professional engineers and other design professionals. Further, the enabling legislation should address the intellectual property rights of professional engineers and other design professionals so that they are protected in the procurement phase and throughout the design-build process.