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Re: Fee Information Sharing

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Laurence
It is neither unethical nor illegal to discuss fee's. It only becomes illegal 
when a group mandates a fee for services or prevents someone from competing 
for work. This was the decision against SEAONC some years ago that came up on 
this list about a month or two ago. 

I was discussing this another engineer yesterday and he claimed that 
engineers don't discuss fee's because it is, as most employees feel, the same 
as sharing your salary - protected by the individuals privacy. 

Our discussion led to a topic of fee's verses quality of work. The old phrase 
"You get what you pay for" is not necessarily adequate in Engineering, but 
seems to be so in fields like construction. A lower fee does not necessarily 
mean lower quality - it could be weighed upon lower cost of business and 
lower standard of living. However, most engineers will agree that had they 
known more about the competition in the area, they would be more apt to raise 
their fees so as to be in a tighter range than those with no knowledge and 
who have lower costs of doing business.

The only way I can see to raise the average is to discuss our fee's and 
promote fair competition.

PROBLEM:
One problem is that when fee's are constrained by a range - anyone (engineers 
included) will start to look for ways to maxmize profit by automating or 
reducing certain chores. This could mean more "generic" details, less caution 
for detailing, etc. 
This is similar to what we see in construction. When bidding apples for 
apples, most contractors should be within 15% of one another. However, most 
start to look for what can be changed later on to reduce cost or increase 
profit. 
A good example of this was the boom of seismic retrofit that occured in the 
80's and early 90's in Los Angeles. Contractors low bid jobs knowing that 
they could redesign and pull permits using their own engineers to produce a 
lower cost job. The problem was that they did not lower their price in 
proportion to the amount of work saved but simply increased their profits. 
Most owners were not aware or not concerned about what steps the contractor 
took to do the work - only that it get done for what they perceived as the 
lowest price.

The control of quality of engineering work is something that I believe should 
be left to the building official. If the detail does not work, the permit 
should not be issued until the drawings reflect a workable or at least, job 
specific solution. Granted, there will always be details that are used over 
and over. One engineers way to deal with this is to provide a "generic 
detail" sheet that applies as a standard of construction package. It neither 
detered from or was used in place of specific details - nor were the details 
referenced. The contractor was simply required to use the conventional detail 
wherever it applied.

Dennis Wish PE



In a message dated 7/3/99 8:51:59 AM Pacific Daylight Time, 
viacalx(--nospam--at)europa.com writes:

<< I'd like to chirp in on the fee issue.  Isn't it funny how lawyers set
 Title Insurance fees by statute (at very lucrative levels), but then
 don't let engineers even discuss fees?
 
 I think we should have an on-line database of project descriptions and
 fees.  If the legal profession wants to claim "price-fixing" then let
 the burden of proof fall to them.  How can they prove "price fixing"
 when it doesn't occur?  Even Home Depot is allowed to keep track of
 competitors posted prices!
 
 If there is disquiet about showing fees, then how about a database of
 project scope descriptions along with associated professional and
 technical hours expended?  This would be even more useful, since we all
 have different local billing rates.  It also is even further from the
 "price-fixing" claim since no dollars are discussed (would the lawyers
 want to stop doctors from comparing notes on how long heart bypasses
 take?).
 
 Laurence Oeth, P.E. >>