Better by Design
Architects: Professional Liability Concerns for Public Contracts

Taking on a government contract can be a boon for any small business. Whether at the state or federal level, government work is a reliable source of income and a way to build your architecture business's reputation. But there's some risk that comes with this type of work, too.

By designing and sometimes constructing large-scale public projects or military structures, architects who engage in government work face a lot more accountability than those working strictly in the private sector. In other words, there are more opportunities to face a lawsuit if something goes wrong. Learning to handle this increased liability is essential for any architecture firm that wants to land government contracts.

What to Consider Before Taking on Public Contracts

What to Consider Before Taking on Public Contracts

It can be a monumental task to even make a proposal for a government contract. A host of rules and regulations dictate how to propose and complete a project, and marketing or networking can be just as important as it is in the private sector. Before you jump in, consider the following:

  • Government agencies award contracts based on rules outlined in the Federal Acquisition Regulation. Become familiar with those regulations before submitting proposals.
  • Working as a subcontractor under a prime contractor can give you valuable public project experience that you can cite in your proposal. The SBA's SUB-Net webpage has subcontracting opportunities for federal contracts.
  • Many government contracts are public record and can be viewed by any interested party. The federal government posts procurement opportunities at

If you are awarded a federal government contract, know there are a number of provisions you wouldn't normally find in the rest of the business world, such as…

  • Termination for default. If you miss deadlines or your work isn't up to specifications, the contract can be terminated.
  • Termination for convenience. If the government decides to cancel a contract for its own reasons, it can do so without advance notice. It will compensate you for work performed and preparations made for the terminated portion of the contract.
  • Contract changes. The government can make changes to the general scope of the contract.
  • Payments. The government may decide in what way to pay according to the scale of contract.
  • Specifications. Most products and services that the government purchases must conform to precise specifications. You're required to understand and comply with those specifications.
  • Inspection and testing. Depending on the project, the government can inspect your business and/or product to determine if it can comply with the contract.
Protect Your Architecture Business from Liability Claims

Protect Your Architecture Business from Liability Claims

If you feel confident in your abilities to meet the government's specifications and lock down all the paperwork for a contract bid, the next thing to consider is Professional Liability or Errors and Omissions Insurance. The government contract will likely require you to carry coverage in case of negligence during the course of the project.

As the prime contractor, you may be found liable in a case that involves a public building for which you were the architect of record. A Professional Liability Insurance policy covers the cost of a legal team to fight on your behalf and may cover the cost of any resulting settlement.

Because public contracts are typically large in scale and affect many different people, the potential for lawsuits is high. Additionally, the government agency responsible for the project will leave you little room for error, being that it's ultimately accountable, politically speaking.

Despite all this, a government contract can be well worth your while. Be aware of the requirements going in, take the necessary steps to minimize your liabilities, and you'll be on your way to the bank with a check from the U.S. Treasury.

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