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7 SUMMATION The committee received information from federal agencies on five subjects related to quality control of construction. With regard to definitions of terms, the information supplied by the agencies verified the committee's belief that agencies use a variety of quality control terms and that the terms are defined differently by different agencies. However, it is not clear that such differences cause any confusion or problems. In fact, some of the differences are probably more apparent than real. For example, even though agencies use different words to define the terms "quality control" and "quality assurance," most agencies agree that quality control is what the contractor does and quality assurance is what the agency (the owner) does. Agencies had widely differing views on the best basic approach to use to control quality on construction projects. The Army and the Navy both rely on the contractor quality control approach; i.e., they require the contractor to assume responsibility for quality control. The Veterans Administration relies primarily on government personnel for quality control. The Public Health Service generally favors using the design architect-engineer firm for quality control on large projects and in-house staff for quality control on small projects. However, two PHS programs (the Food and Drug Administration and the Indian Health Service) favor the use of in-house staff for all projects. The General Services Administration is opposed to the contractor quality control approach. When in-house staff is not available, GSA hires an independent third party inspection firm. 29
The agencies that responded to the committee's questionnaire were generally reticent about expressing views on trends in construction quality. The agencies gave various reasons for their reticence: lack of statistics, the difficulty of the task of quantifying quality, and the fact that quality actually is estab- lished by the contract documents with which contractors must comply, and if quality levels change it is due to changes in those documents. In discussing actions taken to improve construction quality control, most agencies put more emphasis on steps taken to improve the quality of their designs than on actions taken to improve quality control per se. Although the information on steps taken to ensure better designs was, strictly speaking, not responsive to the committee's questionnaire, it was consistent with the view expressed by most agencies that quality is actually defined by the contract documents and that contractors can only be required to provide the level of quality stipulated in the plans and specifications. Thus, when seeking better quality, the place to start is with the preparation of plans and specifications and related documents. Various agencies did, however, discuss steps being taken specifically to improve quality control on their construction projects, including: more training for inspectors and resident engineers, the distribution of inspection guides to inspectors, and hiring private firms to provide quality control services when government personnel are unavailable. In response to the committee's question about additional actions being considered to improve the quality of construction work being received, agencies mentioned a variety of steps; some of the ideas mentioned were extensions of actions already being taken; e.g., providing more training for inspectors and using private firms for inspection. Other ideas were somewhat novel; e.g., improving career opportunities for quality assur- ance personnel (in order to attract and keep better qual- ified personnel in such work), and institution of an award program to give recognition to quality construction work. 30