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Construction

This TA was superseded on 03/24/2010 by Development and Review of Specifications

Technical Advisories

Development and Review of Specifications

T 5080.16

August 7, 1992

Par.

  1. Purpose
  2. Definitions
  3. Background
  4. Functions and Responsibilities
  5. Format
  6. Clarity and Brevity
  7. Fair and Equal Consideration
  8. Primary Review Points
  9. Development and Feedback
  1. PURPOSE. To provide to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regional and division offices and State highway agencies (SHA) guidance for the development and review of specifications for Federal-aid highway projects.
  2. DEFINITIONS
    1. Specifications - the compilation of provisions and requirements for the performance of prescribed work and the basis of payment for the work.
    2. Standard Specifications - a book of specifications approved for general application and repetitive use.
    3. Supplemental Specifications - approved additions and revisions to the standard specifications used to update the standard specifications between publications.
    4. Special Provisions - approved additions and revisions to the standard and supplemental specifications that apply only to an individual project or a small group of projects.
    5. Method Specifications - specifications that are explicit in the identification of the work methods or procedures to be used to complete the work included in the contract. Method specifications often include some measure of work control or direction by the contracting agency.
    6. Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QC/QA) Specifications and End Result Specifications -specifications that minimize prescriptiveness of work methods, materials, and equipment. The focus is on quality control responsibilities and measurement of end-product parameters that affect performance.
    7. National Reference Specifications - specifications prepared by recognized organizations or agencies that provide national standards of performance or measurement. These specifications have been proven over time to provide the desired quality.
  3. BACKGROUND
    1. Clear, concise specifications are essential in achieving quality and efficiency in highway construction. Specifications define individual responsibilities, measurement and payment procedures, and provide the communication between the SHA and the contractor. Today's challenges in the highway construction program place a great demand on the SHA for clear and concise specifications. Factors which contribute to these challenges include:
      1. Increasing project complexity and scope,
      2. Increasing legislative and administrative requirements,
      3. New technology applications,
      4. Shortage of personnel in number and experience, and
      5. The proliferation of contract claims and litigation.
    2. In the past, the State's Field Engineer was often the autonomous source of all project decisions and the sole judge of contract compliance. The State Field Engineer's experience was relied on extensively as reflected in the often used language "in the opinion of the Engineer," "as directed by the Engineer," or "as approved by the Engineer." The Field Engineer was often directly involved in the supervision and control of the work. Consequently, there was a tendency to provide and use broad, vague specifications to allow the Field Engineer the latitude to control the contractor's operation. Current construction industry business practices will not accept the sharing of operational control without shared liability.
    3. Today, the Field Engineer is called on to have extensive knowledge not only of engineering practices, but also administrative and legal requirements. The increased emphasis on administrative and legal requirements has reduced the amount of time and energy that can be spent on construction quality related activities. The size, nature, cost, and complexity of projects has changed to reflect reconstruction and rehabilitation priorities. Therefore, the day-to-day problems on the project are greatly increased by the need to consider previously constructed work and how best to construct the new work in the midst of trafficthat must be maintained.
      1. Specialty subcontracting has increased to deal with new and changing construction procedures and materials. Therefore, the Engineer relies on the specifications to a greater degree to provide needed information about specific construction and administrative requirements.
      2. Project development is an assembly line process. Smaller and smaller specialty parts included in the design are often provided by personnel with varying engineering backgrounds and experience in construction. As the number and specialized nature of the parts increase, integration of the parts into a whole unit becomes difficult.
      3. Changes in the complexity of construction projects and in construction methods have placed a significant burden on the specifications. The specifications must reflect these changes and clearly define the basic roles and responsibilities of the contract parties.
  4. FUNCTIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
    1. Description of Work - The function of specifications is to provide definitive directions, procedures, and product requirements considered necessary by the SHA for completing the work identified in the contract. After contract award, no additional duties or restrictions can be placed on the contractor without a contract revision.
      1. Description of Requirements - All of the requirements for acceptance of the work, including quality desired (and methods of quality control where applicable), quality and quantity measurement, and basis of payment by the SHA must be included.
      2. Restrictions Applicable - The description of the work must also include a clear description of restrictions applicable in the completion of the work. These restrictions may be in the form of administrative requirements, intermediate steps of approval or checking, or the methods of transfer of information between the SHA and the contractor.
    2. Contract Responsibilities - In the specifications, each party to the contract must be made aware of theirindividual responsibilities in order to fulfill the contract. The SHA must be able to state clearly, in writing, the requirements and duties of both contract parties for each and every work item and process required. If there is no way to measure or evaluate the accomplishment of a stated responsibility, there is an immediate problem with the specification. Identification and description of responsibilities that cannot be measured will be costly. The specification objective is to provide a clear understanding of each party's responsibilities that cannot be misinterpreted.
      1. Limits of Responsibility - The limits of responsibility, whether individual or coordinated in nature, must be defined in the contract and specifications. Each party to the contract must know the actions that must be completed, what steps are necessary to meet the responsibility assigned to them, and how these steps or actions will be measured.
      2. Coordinate Responsibilities - The order of accomplishment by each party of their individual responsibilities must be established to identify the step-by-step actions needed to ensure that further work can realistically proceed on the item described.
      3. Explanations - There is no reason to provide information to justify or explain the requirements or procedures established in the specifications. The requirements and procedures are part of the work to be done for final product payment. Explanations and justification for actions to be taken by SHA personnel are better included in the administrative and construction manuals for use by SHA personnel only.
      4. Essential Information - The requirements and procedures defined must be essential to the SHA evaluation of the product for payment purposes. Requirements and procedures that are not essential to the attainment of the product quality or quantity serve no useful function and lead to nonenforcement in the field. This places the contractor and SHA in jeopardy concerning the credibility and use of the specifications.
      5. Failure to Comply With Specification - The issue of what will be done in the event that either party does not satisfy their respective contract responsibilities must also be addressed. The actions available to each party and the cost or delay that results from the failure of either party should be considered in specific terms.
    3. Measurement and Payment -
      1. Once the work responsibilities are identified, a review of the measurement and payment procedures is needed to assure that the sequence of each party's actions do not interfere with the measurement of the work quality and quantity. The basis of payment for the work should reflect the responsibility and completion definitions included in the work description.
      2. Necessary preceding and succeeding events in the work accomplishment and whether the character of a material or item may change due to these events will have a bearing on the time and place of measurement. If either party has any further responsibilities for a bid item after measurement for payment, the nature and extent of that responsibility must be provided.
      3. When writing specifications and using them in the field, it should be remembered that "approval actions" and "acceptance" may be considered to be the same when conflict resolution reaches the claim stage or litigation. Exculpatory clauses that are inserted into approval documentation (for example, falsework design and structural design submittals)have not been generally successful as a defense in litigation.
  5. FORMAT. A standard, five-part format for specifications has evolved over the years through the concerted efforts of the FHWA and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, in coordination with highway construction industry organizations.
    1. The five part specification format consists of:
      1. Description of Work
      2. Materials Requirements
      3. Construction Requirements
      4. Method of Measurement
      5. Basis of Payment
    2. This format establishes a uniform approach to providing needed information, describing the work to be performed and identifying the responsibilities of the contracting parties. Although items (2) and (3) of the format may not always be applicable, they should not be deleted. The specifications should show all of the format parts using the notation "none specified" where the information is not applicable. EXAMPLE --- for Section 201 - Clearing and Grubbing, there would be a subsection for description, construction, method of measurement, and basis of payment, but there would be no materials requirements. The subsection would be presented asfollows: 201.02 Materials Requirements - None Specified.
    3. Information that does not fall within the five labeled parts of the format is not considered to be essential to the standard specification.
  6. CLARITY AND BREVITY
    1. A successful specification is both clear and brief. Information that is not essential to the directions and commitments that will be a part of the contract only serves to confuse those applying the specification in the field.
    2. Short sentences with simple, direct language should be used. Continuous restatements that the "contractor shall ....." and "the work shall consist of..." do not provide needed information. The subject of the specification section should stand on its own and establish the content of the material presented.
    3. Repetition should be avoided. If the subject is one that cannot be measured or is not measured against a standard, the use of adjectives and other word modifiers will not change the meaning of the directions. For instance, in field applications, what would be the difference between "thorough consolidation" and "consolidation" of fresh concrete? The judgment made in the field would be whether or not the fresh concrete has been consolidated.
    4. Use of active voice grammar is preferred to directly state the essential directions and procedures. Writing in the active voice is accomplished by moving the verb to the beginning of the sentence followed by the subject.
      1. Examples of how the usual (passive voice) language of past specifications can be changed by using active voice grammar and minor editing are shown below.
        1. Passive - The gravel shall be placed and shaped by power equipment to the specified lines, grades, cross-sections, and depths, without segregation. (21 words)
          Active voice - Place and shape gravel to the specified dimensions without segregation using power equipment. (13 words)
        2. Passive - A mechanical broom or sweeper shall be provided which is adjustable to uniform contact with the surface and designed to thoroughly clean without cutting into the surface being swept. (29 words)
          Active Voice - Provide a mechanical broom or sweeper that can be adjusted to uniform surface contact and does not cut into the surface.(21 words)
        3. Passive - Concrete shall be thoroughly consolidated against the faces of all forms and joints, including concrete in a previously constructed lane of pavement, by means of vibrators inserted in the concrete. (30 words)
          Active Voice - Consolidate fresh concrete against all form faces, joints, and previously constructed pavement using insertion type vibrators. (16 words)
      2. The use of active voice may not always be the preferred method if there is a good possibility that confusion may result. Method specifications may become stilted and awkward since the description necessary to explain the process and methods required can be quite involved. The use of the active voice for QC/QA specifications may be easier in application since the results, rather than the work method, are measured.
      3. The primary goal is clear communication -- what is required of the contractor and how the completed results or method requirements be will measured by the SHA.
    5. All terminology should be defined, particularly terms that are part of the required work responsibility of the contractor or those that have a bearing on the quality of the work or its measurement.
    6. Instructions not included in the specifications must be specific and be included in the bid package. If the contractor must wait until after contract award to receive instructions from the Engineer, higher bid prices will naturally result.
    7. Clarity is the responsibility of the writer. According to claim judgments made by the courts, the writer of specifications (the highway agency) is responsible for any conflict or confusion resulting from application of the specifications.
  7. FAIR AND EQUAL CONSIDERATION
    1. References to information not specifically included within the contract document should be accompanied by notification of where the information can be obtained. The notification should include a contact office and telephone number so the information is available to the contractor, suppliers, and subcontractors.
    2. All requirements should be definitive and measurable. Requirements that involve "opinions of the Engineer" cannot be realistically bid since the quality requirements are not defined. Some terms are very difficult to define or measure unless additional information is provided, such as "a stand of grass," or "clean." The inclusion of requirements beyond what can be measured equally by both parties to the contract, or requirements that are open to differing opinions, should be eliminated.
    3. Specification requirements should be based on procedures that are necessary to produce the measurable qualities desired by the SHA. Specifying procedures or properties that cannot be justified by experience and credibility, or that are not related to the product quality may lead to a conflict that cannot be equitably resolved.
    4. Both parties cannot have the same authority andresponsibility. The particular responsibility and authority of both contract parties must be clearly identified for all payment and procedure items.
  8. PRIMARY REVIEW POINTS
    1. Continuity of Thought and Logic - Continuity of information and thought needs to be checked throughout each section of the specifications.
      1. In this review process, consider the reader unfamiliar with the subject presented, and use "bite size" portions of information.
      2. In addition to the five-part format categories, the subject should be arranged into discrete, complete messages that can be expressed simply.
      3. Assure that the information in each message is presented in a logical, step-by-step continuous manner before moving on to additional material. The critical information needed in the message will become apparent as the logic is examined.
      4. Once a clear message is provided, use a new paragraph (or a new sentence) to present the next message.
    2. Method of Presentation and Overall Organization - The sequence of the information and requirements should be reviewed and evaluated to assure clarity and continuity of thought. Locating information necessary for the accomplishment of the contract tasks should not bedifficult for either the bidder or the SHA personnel.
      1. The Standard Specifications and their revisions are used and relied upon by third parties outside the contract but integral to the process. A well organized specification eliminates confusion and results in a smoother contracting process that, in turn, provides economic benefits to all concerned. Subsequent revisions, in the form of supplemental specifications or special provisions, will disrupt the presentation of information, if the Standard Specifications are not clearly presented and organized.
      2. Presentation and organization are also important in the individual Contract or proposal. Arrangement of the subject matter, using the base format numbering system and sequence of the specifications, will provide an easier referral system for specification users.
    3. Clarity of Measurement Procedures - Provide a clear description of the qualities to be measured for payment and the method of measurement.
      1. If a method of measurement cannot be defined, the need for measurement should be questioned. Unless a definitive method can be provided for use by both the contractor and the SHA, with unequivocal interpretation where possible, there will be conflict over the measurements taken.
      2. Where and when the measurement is to be made in the construction or processing procedures must also be clear. If sequential measurement and approval actions will be necessary, the sequence should be clearly spelled out.
      3. If the points in the work sequence, where the quantity and quality measurements are made, are not compatible with the work sequence, a clear description of the responsibilities regarding removal of unacceptable work or reduced payment must be provided. The consequences of failure, which include subsequent work that will be disturbed or removed as a result of the test or measurement determinations, must also be defined.
    4. Conflicting Information and Requirements -
      1. All of the information provided must be coordinated with other requirements located throughout the specifications and reference documents to eliminate conflicts. The requirements of each specification provision must dovetail with the requirements of necessary preceding and succeeding provisions to accomplish the task described.
      2. The procedures used by the SHA to administer the contract, monitor construction, design the work, and sample and test compliance with the contract requirements must complement the specifications. If a procedure used might counteract the specifications, a change should be made in the procedures or specifications to prevent the situation.
  9. DEVELOPMENT AND FEEDBACK. To ensure total coordination of work-related technical requirements with administrative requirements, the specification writers and reviewers must become thoroughly familiar with the general provisions (usually Division 100 in the Standard Specifications) and the entire bidding and contracting procedures used.

    Detailed knowledge of both the technical and the administrative requirements and concerns is not always available from one or two individuals. The use of a committee or group of knowledgeable individuals to develop and evaluate the specifications is preferred.

    1. Enforcement - If the specifications are to be credible, all provisions must be enforceable and enforced. Provisions not enforced in field application may point to an inequality in the specifications or administrative actions that must be corrected.

      The reason(s) for non-enforcement need to be identified and corrected wherever they exist. Some common reasons for non-enforcement are: (1) improper administrative procedures used,(2) conflicts due to other specifications, (3) lack of clarity in the specifications, and/or (4) specifications that are punitive, without justification, or are used to cover basic failures in contract administrative procedures or contract preparation.

    2. Feedback Data - Problem areas due to specifications will become apparent in the evaluation of the field inspection report findings made by the FHWA and the SHA. Comments from industry groups should be considered.
      1. Year end summaries of common change orders, time extensions, other contract revisions, and claims will also indicate whether or not there are specification deficiencies. A regular review of these items is recommended as a check on the adequacy of the specifications.
      2. A review check should be made during project development to determine whether all the information included in the bid package is applicable to the project advertised. For example, two different special provisions may be printed back to back on a sheet of paper as a means of economizing. Insertion of the sheet in the bid package -- when both provisions do not apply to the contract -- will provide information that is not needed, waste the bidders time, and lead to confusion. Making constructability reviews when all of the contract provisions are available will also provide information regarding the applicability of the contract documents.
    3. Review of "Grandfather" Application - Standard Specifications are often the final result of special provisions which where changed to supplemental specifications and then Standard Specifications. The applicability of special provisions within the broader range of the Standard Specifications should be continually monitored. An up-to-date special provisions list should be maintained to allow a quick comparison of the Contract requirements provided and the provisions available.
    4. Development - Specification development and evaluationshould be performed by a multi-disciplinary group. Representation of the FHWA in the review group is strongly recommended. A multi-disciplinary review group within the FHWA Division is also recommended.
      1. Within the groups used to develop and evaluate the specifications, caution must be used to identify the best approach to address organizational "mind set" problems and any biases of the individual members. A free and comprehensive exchange of information between all members of the groups is needed.
      2. If a procedure is used by a SHA department or division that generates conflict or uncertainty in the specification applications, the procedure causing the conflict or uncertainty should be adjusted or revised.
      3. The specification review and development process should be continuous (between publications) to account for impacts of new provisions and procedures.
    5. Reviewing Specifications - A single review done at one sitting will not adequately complete the evaluation. Once reviewed,the material should be set aside and rechecked later to provide a fresh approach to the language and content. The need for subsequent review will be reflected by the comments and revisions noted.
      1. A separate specification review by a disinterested third party can provide valuable insight andevaluation of the material. The questions raised can point out basic problem areas, such as assumed knowledge or need for the requirement.
      2. Review for legal sufficiency is also suggested. This review should concentrate on the legal sufficiency but not require the attorney to write the specifications. "Legalese" language should be avoided.
    6. Resource Files - A comprehensive file system should be maintained to provide a reference base that will track the development and success of each special provision, supplemental specification, or new specification. As each version is revised, the area and date of the revision should be noted to alert the user of the specification changes.
      1. The revised specifications should be filed by subject, whether revised as a special provision or as a supplemental specification, and maintained in a master file.
      2. Specifications are influenced by the legal requirements of the States and the Federal Government. Therefore, a file should be maintained of State and Federal laws that impact the construction and design processes. A policy statement file should also be maintained concerning the implementation of highway contracts. Extra care in the purging or updating of these files is recommended.

Anthony R. Kane
Associate Administrator
for Program Development

ATTACHMENT

Tx

Mention incorporation of SI units as part of the transition to the metric system.

Editorial comments

NM

Editorial comments

Outside review suggested by professional editor

Ok

Suggest include Definition of Terms in with the Five Part Format

MT

Add discussion on partnering concepts - not a way around specs

Clarification

Editorial

SD

Define "end result specifications" with QA definition

Suggest inclusion of performance based specifications

ND

Define "end result specifications" with QA definition

Suggested revised language and clarification

Noted redundancy

Change discouragement?

Editorial

Reg

Editorial

Add approval actions by Division and Region

Suggested revised language and clarification

Reg

Suggested revised language and clarification

Editorial

Reg

Suggested revised language and clarification

Editorial

Ak

Brevity and clarity recommendations

Wa

Content comments - TA would be of no use in field

Updated: 11/26/2013
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000