ConstructionPro Week, Volume: 2 - Issue: 41 - 10/11/2013

Shouldn’t Contracts Specify Contractor Submittal Obligations?

By Bruce Jervis


Construction contracts frequently establish a procedure for the review of shop drawings and other submittals. This includes a time period, usually stated in calendar days, for the project owner or owner’s representative to review and return submittals to the contractor. For instance, on a recent federal project, the agency had 30 days to review and comment on submittals.


These stipulated turnaround times are crucial for a contractor. The failure to obtain approval of a submittal may impede performance of aspects of the work. The deadline may serve as a benchmark in a subsequent dispute over delay or an extension of time. But if the project owner is to be held to a deadline for review, is it not reasonable to also contractually define the format and manner of the contractor’s submittals?


The federal contract in question stated that submittals covering component items and forming an interrelated system of items must be coordinated and submitted concurrently. The contractor did not do this, instead submitting items piecemeal for review.


The agency reviewed and commented on these submittals as an accommodation to the contractor. But some submittals were not returned for two to three months. When the contractor filed a delay claim, the 30-day turnaround period was not enforced against the agency. The deadline was premised on submission of coordinated shop drawings.


It is surprising how often construction contracts establish a deadline for owner review of submittals while remaining silent on the contractor’s submittal obligations. What is your opinion on this? What are some reasonable expectations in the formatting and timing of submittals? I welcome your comments.



The Contractor shall within 30 days of commencement prepare a submittal schedule including all the submittal elements required by the Contract Specifications. The submittal schedule shall be fully coordinated with the sequence of the work, and the time allowed for the submittal process for each element of the work shall cause no delay to the work. The Contractor shall allow for a reasonable period in the schedule for the Consultant review and approval of the submittals.

The consultant shall review the submittal schedule within 30 days of receipt and confirm to the Contractor: either, i)that adequate time has been allowed for the review and approval of each submittal or, ii) that inadequate time has been allowed for each submittal, and the Contractor shall provide a revised schedule to the reasonable satisfaction of the Consultant, revising the review and approval times for submittals identified by the Consultant as inadequate.

Posted by: jim scott - Friday, October 11, 2013 10:17 AM

Uncoordinated and incomplete shop drawings and submittals create nightmares for owners and presenting a Hobson's choice for designers who need to review submittals timely, but who often never receive a complete set of submittals needed to approve an entire system or assembly. If they wait for the entire set of submittals (for a wall system, for example), the contractor will ring up a delay for each of those early submittals--which cannot be conscientiously approved without the complementary components. In other words: a 'claim game.'
Posted by: Michael E. Peters RA Esq - Friday, October 11, 2013 11:00 AM

The real key here is the specification writer and the design reviewer/coordinator. We consult exclusively in the federal contracting sector for both AE firms and Contractors. Most of these contracts are specified using general guide specifications that require severe site specific editing. Most do not include coordinating language when a system requiring submittal analysis is covered in more than one section. That language needs to be added by the designer/specify. On the AE side we always recommend language be added where necessary to assure all pieces of a system be submitted together or they will be returned not reviewed or approved. We recommend to our contractors that they bundle their submittals whether required or not into the largest package tor preclude delays when the reviewer cannot find a key element that prevents complete understanding. I personally have been on all the sides of this issue in the past having been a government developer/reviewer/approver of both designs and contractor submittals, a contractor PM responsible for submitting, a contractor QC manager approving submittals on Contractor QC projects, and a contractor coordinator of design-build designs and subcontractor interfaces into the effort.

My experience is that the government is sloppy and maybe inept in reviewing designs for these glitches and contractors are pushing submittals w/o adequate attention to detail trying to meet there unrealistic schedule. The combination sometimes gets viral. Contractor; due to competitive pressures never have enough dollars or resources planned to do submittals effectively and efficiently.

Posted by: Ron Vietmeier - Friday, October 11, 2013 11:29 AM

Most federal and state contract documents contain a fairly protective clause on submittals in the "front end." This language requires submittals to be complete and coordinated, as in the example. It is fairly common (and good practice) to require the Contractor to prepare a submittal register and include submittals in the baseline schedule. These should be reviewed at the pre-construction stage, which also is an opportunity to reference the Contract General Conditions requirements, and to reinforce the GC's responsibility for organizing submittals prepared by subcontractors.

From the Engineer/owner side, a submittal register provides a check for conflicts before bid, and an opportunity to define primary and secondary reviewer responsibilities.

Distribution of the Contractor's submittal register and schedule provides early identification of when reviewers can expect to see submittals. Together with initial completeness review of submittals, these steps allow the Engineer / owner team to conduct timely and coordinated reviews, and encourage Contractor attention to submittal quality.
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Posted by: McKerihan - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 10:40 PM

The simple answer is no. Submittal requirements and many other "rules of the road" for a project belong in Division 01 specifications where they can be given sufficient detail.
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