2022 MARKED THE 50th ANNIVERSARY of the enactment of the Brooks Act, the law requiring the federal government to utilize Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) when procuring engineering and architecture services. With QBS, firms are selected based on their experience and technical expertise rather than by price. Many states have subsequently followed the federal mandate for their state-funded projects.
Engineering Inc. recently spoke with Jeb Brooks, chairman of the board of directors of the Jack Brooks Foundation and son of former Congressman Jack Brooks, D-Texas, who was author of the Brooks Act legislation.
Jeb established the foundation as an apolitical nonprofit focused on increasing civic engagement.
ACEC: What does it mean for you to celebrate the 50th anniversary of your father’s work?
Jeb Brooks: I’m enormously proud of my father, and I’m grateful to ACEC for the opportunity to talk about some of his work. The Brooks Act of 1972 also is something to be proud of. It was the importance of my dad’s contribution that led me to create the Jack Brooks Foundation. I would say that it is the legislation itself, my dad, and ACEC members that are the main cause for celebration today.
ACEC: What would you most want people to know about your father?
Brooks: I think he said it best himself: “You ought to be interested in helping people, but you ought to be interested in helping everybody.” He embodied the kind of public servant who wanted the best for our country.
ACEC: What prompted your father to create legislation that emphasized the importance of quality engineering?
Brooks: Well, the story goes that in 1937, when my father was a young man, there was a natural gas explosion at a nearby school that killed almost 300 children. There were other incidents: In 1963 there was a reservoir collapse, in 1965 and 1967 there were three bridge collapses, and in 1971 there was a building collapse. I believe that the Brooks Act of 1972 was created to ensure that public funds were used to build sound, reliable projects—of whatever sort.
The result was the creation of the QBS procurement method. For some, QBS is important because it saves tax dollars over the long term. But for me, and I believe for my father as well, the number of lives that have been saved thanks to this legislation and thanks to QBS are even more important.
ACEC: What else about the Brooks Act of 1972 should people know?
Brooks: I would like for everyone, even beyond the constituents of ACEC, to understand how difficult it is to make law—to set down the basic rules that regulate American industry. Dad would explain to me that positive change doesn’t come about just because you think something isn’t right; it takes tough, tedious work. It was his determination to do that tough work to craft reliable, functional legislation that benefits the whole country. Any project built with quality and made to last takes that same kind of tough, determined work—if you don’t believe me, just ask an engineer!
With that in mind, I’d also like for people to understand the challenge of public service. The Brooks Act took over five years of work in Congress to become law. Now, 50 years later, we can all appreciate how important public policy can be. There is no question that America works best when we all work together. This legislation has not only helped the engineering industry thrive, but every American has also benefited from the quality work exemplified by the projects honored earlier this year at ACEC’s Engineering Excellence Awards (EEA) Gala.
Brooks: This is not just some dusty old document from a bygone age. The key issues that lead to the embodiment of QBS have already been debated for years and at the highest level. The questions confronted by the engineering industry today can be answered, solved, and contextualized by reviewing the process that led to this legislation. In general, reading history is categorically never bad.
That is why the Jack Brooks Foundation, in conjunction with the Briscoe Center for American History, is digitizing all of Dad’s papers spanning his 42 years of service in Congress. We have just released a trove of documents relating to the discussions and debates that ultimately formed the bill as it stands today. I believe that having those documents available to the public can remind us of the whys, the wherefores, and ultimately the importance of QBS as public policy.
ACEC: How do you think your father would feel knowing that the Brooks Act is still in place today?
Brooks: This is not only a proud moment for the industry that ACEC represents, but also a proud and tangible example for America of what good public policy—and therefore good government—can achieve in the hands of a skilled political engineer like my dad.
ACEC: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Brooks: In closing, I could not be prouder of my father. While the 1972 act is something we can all be proud of, it is Americans who truly benefit from the beautiful creations and spaces created by ACEC engineers. As a former New Yorker, the rebirth of Penn Station into the Moynihan Train Hall—the 2022 EEA Grand Conceptor Award winner—gives me a renewed sense of pride in our country, all thanks to this bill and what has been achieved by engineers such as yourselves as a result.
All of these interlinking steps took years to accomplish. A politician (independent of party) worked to create rules that would help everybody. It was tough, tedious work. QBS and the members of ACEC took up the tough work of building this country project by quality project. Each step is and will be evaluated ultimately by quality and hard work acting in conjunction. This is not about just one bill, not just one man, not even one industry: This is America.
Jeb Brooks joined the Engineering Influence podcast live from ACEC’s 2022 Fall Conference in Colorado Springs to discusses the history of the Brooks Act, its importance for public safety, and the work of the Jack Brooks Foundation, which is working to keep the legacy of Congressman Brooks alive. Listen to the conversation here: https://acecnational.podbean.com/e/the-50th-anniversary-of-the-brooks-act/
FORMER CONGRESSMAN JACK BROOKS SPOKE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF QUALIFICATIONS-BASED SELECTION AS HE ADVOCATED FOR AND CELEBRATED THE PASSAGE OF THE BROOKS ACT.
THIS BILL IS FRAMED in terms of protecting the government’s and the public’s interest. The bill, for this reason, merits the support of the responsible members of your professions—those who are ready, willing, and able to compete for government contracts on the basis of their capabilities and qualifications to do the job—and who are also willing, after having won this crucial element of the competition, to perform the design work at a fee that is fair and reasonable to the government.
Addressing the American Institute of Architects and the Consulting Engineers Council of the U.S., March 13, 1972
DESIGN COSTS are only a minor percentage of overall cost of construction and maintenance.
Yet, if design is poor, construction and maintenance costs can be unnecessarily high and the structure may be inefficient to use over a period of many decades.
Billions of dollars in construction will be undertaken by the federal government during the years to come, requiring the services of thousands of architects and engineers. It is imperative that those selected to perform the design work for the government have the highest qualifications and be willing to provide these services to the government at fair and reasonable prices.
Addressing the Architect/Engineer Selection Bill, February 1, 1972
LEGISLATION, AS YOU MAY KNOW, is an art, however, and not a science. We do not turn out good legislation like you stamp out bottle caps.
I am totally committed to the proposition that the federal government and the people of this nation have the benefit of the highest quality architectural and engineering services that the government can procure.
I want you to know how deeply I appreciate the support you have given me in the past in connection with this important legislation. During the years to come, countless billions of dollars in tax funds will be spent on a multiplicity of projects, requiring the very best that your professions can provide. As far as I am concerned, we must continue an all-out struggle to avoid compromise of this costly effort.
Addressing the American Institute of Architects and the Consulting Engineers Council, March 3, 1971
HIGH-QUALITY DESIGN SERVICES by members of the architectural and engineering professions are essential if the government wants to obtain more efficient buildings that are better suited to meet the needs of the public.
These designs that members of these professions provide the government are not an end in themselves but rather serve as a guide for constructing multimillion-dollar federal facilities. Common sense suggests that the government can save on construction and maintenance costs and also obtain better buildings and other structures if the most highly qualified architects and engineers are employed.
It is essential that the broadest possible competition be injected into architect/engineer selection so that all members of these professions will be given a fair opportunity to participate in federal design work that they are qualified to perform. Furthermore, contracts for these services must be at price levels that are fair and reasonable in order to protect the interests of the taxpayers.
Addressing the House approval of the Brooks Architect/Engineer Selection Bill, July 26, 1972
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT has a multibillion-dollar construction program to fill the needs for federal office buildings and other structures to be used in providing essential services to the public. We cannot compromise the quality of this construction work by accepting inferior designs.
This bill reflects the approach utilized throughout the Western world in acquiring these professional services. It is a time-tested system, universally recognized as the most effective means of selecting architects and engineers.
The bill approved today establishes federal policy that the broadest competition be pursued in architect and engineer selection and, further, that no contract be awarded at a fee that is not fair and reasonable to the government.
Final approval today of this legislation is a most gratifying result of a struggle of more than five years to protect the public’s interest in the quality of our federal construction program.
Addressing Congressional approval of the Brooks Architect/Engineer Selection Bill, October 14, 1972