It would appear that the state is getting something for nothing. The unit bid costs under the QC/QA specification are not significantly higher than under the standard specification. In fact, they average just slightly lower. However, under the QC/QA specification, contractors are eligible for up to a 5% bonus payment. This figures importantly into the economics of the comparison. How ever, by applying a 90% reduction to the state's testing and inspection costs, using the QC/QA unit bid costs, and assuming an average 3% bonus achieved by contractors, the bid items specified by using the standard specification would have cost $4 million more over the 3-year period, or about 70 cents per ton. Thus, from' a purely economic position, this innovative QA practice does not appear to save the state dollars. Because Caltrans does not yet have an MMS in place, it cannot be easily determined whether the quality of the QC/QA projects is significantly higher than that of the standard projects. However, it is known that sufficient resources are not available internally to meet the additional testing and inspection workload that was avoided by using the QC/QA specification.
As the preceding analysis shows, cost savings are not necessarily a benefit of adopting innovative QA practices. The greater attraction is the flexibility they can give to free limited resources for redirection to meet critical needs. This short-term benefit is important because it can provide the impetus to overcome institutional inertia. Perhaps more important, however, is the potential long-term benefit in increased quality and reduced adversarial relations achievable by shifting responsibility for control of quality from those who buy the product to those who produce it.
By analyzing bid information, workload standards, and current testing frequencies, Caltrans discovered that testing and inspection costs, as a percentage of bid amount, were highest for some of its least critical materials. This prompted a reexamination of procedures to identify opportunities for cost-saving alternatives. Because of the wide choice of innovative QA practices available and the realization that a one-size-fits-all philosophy would not work, Caltrans developed a systematic approach. Key features include the auditing of current practice to target potential candidate materials, use of an electronic template to facilitate and document the evaluation process, and development of an MMS to provide the performance tracking capabilities necessary to implement innovative practices.
As times change, practices need to change to meet new constraints, use new technologies, and incorporate lessons learned. Although some innovative QA practices may not appear to be economical, the long-term benefits of getting contractors and producers to manage the quality of their work cannot be denied. Institutional structures, both public and private sector, are risk adverse and resistant to change. Use of this structured, proactive process, under way in California, is one effective way to overcome institutional barriers and implement innovative practices for assuring materials quality.