How To Remedy School Construction Ills
Your editorial of Aug. 30 regarding Harford County school construction reinforces the most serious problem facing institutional and public purchasers of construction services today.
They must typically accept the low bid, whether or not the bidding contractor is qualified or capable to perform the work. Furthermore, the bidding general contractor is typically relying upon numerous subcontractor and supplier bids to assemble his bid. Along each step of the bidding process, the lowest price is used, usually without regard to the qualifications of the bidder. In short, what is happening to these purchasers of construction services is that they are frequently getting what they paid for -- cheap construction.
Having spent nearly the last 20 years in the construction industry working for various general contractors, I have witnessed the decline of quality in public construction projects as prices continue to be driven down by unscrupulous and unqualified contractors.
The solution to the problem, as is frequently the case, is not a simple one. But a start would be having public agencies pre-qualify contractors and subcontractors prior to bidding.
Such a pre-qualification would be more than the cursory review used by many of the public agencies that now require some sort of pre-qualification, which is merely a review of the contractor's financial statement. A comprehensive pre-qualification process would include a financial review, but would also include interviews with the company principals and a background check with previous clients.
A second step would be to have bidding general contractors name their subcontractors on the bid ding documents. This would serve a two-fold purpose. The first would be to allow the agency the opportunity to disqualify a bid based upon the utilization of unqualified subcontractors. Secondly, it would help to diminish the age-old practice of "bid-shopping" subcontractor and supplier practices after the bid by the unscrupulous general contractor.
Until such time as public agencies devote more time to pre-qualifying contractors, situations such as you describe in Harford County will continue. It is the rare instance that an agency has the intestinal fortitude to reject a bid from someone they know to be unqualified to perform the work.
I have, however, witnessed just such an incident within the past several months by an agency and its architect when they rejected the low bid. Perhaps there is hope after all.
Bruce B. Traggoth