Expertise. Make sure the consulting firm, or at least some key personnel, has experience on the type of project you are hiring it for. Checking references for past projects is important.
Personnel. Forming a partnership begins with the proposal phase. Get to know the people you are considering partnering with early on. And make certain that the partnership agreement includes the personnel named in the proposal.
Reputation. Use all available resources to establish a real grasp of the reputation and service quality record of a potential private partner. Do not neglect in-house records from past contracts and industry and government professional organizations.
Accessibility. Communication is the heart of a successful partnership. This does not mean that a consultant has to be local, but it does mean that good potential partners will have a reputation for good communication and will be readily available and timely during the selection process.
Customized Approach. You should feel like a unique customer. Consultants who treat a project with a cookie-cutter approach may be fine in some cases but may be problematic in long-term, innovative, or high-profile projects.
Using qualification-based selection of consultants not only serves to ensure quality of consultant design work,
but also serves to reduce the degree of departmental supervision needed.87
Indeed, many counties and
municipalities around the nation use consultants as an ongoing extension of their own workforce, where consultants work side by side with public-sector employees in agency offices. This allows for easy adjustment of the workforce to serve changing demand, promotes smaller departmental staffing, and introduces competition in the workplace.88
E. Outsourcing to Improve Efficiency
With proper contracts, consultant projects have tighter time, budget, and scope-of-work constraints than in- house projects. Besides inadequate monitoring, in-house projects often show changes in scope, unforeseen design complications, and unexpectedly high levels of public involvement—in contrast to contracted work, which tends to be better defined in project scope and relatively predictable as to potential problems that could increase costs.89
Based in part on Fredrick Bloetscher, “Looking for Quality in an Engineering Consultant,” American City & County (December 1999), p. 28, and on RPPI research.
Choosing an Engineering Consultant
Helmut Schneider, Donald Deis, Charles Coates Jr., and Chester Wilmot, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development In House Versus Consultant Design and Cost Study, Report No. 309 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Transportation Research Center, May 1998), p. 73.
Ibid., p. 159. Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau, Evaluation of Use of Engineering Consultants, p. 3.
If the goal of outsourcing is acquiring crucial expertise, governments have to think ahead about what they are looking for from their private partners. Some things to consider are: