Laboratory Procurement, Data Quality, & Budget Management

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

Communication during the bidding stage and planning stage of your project is the first step in ensuring your data are of the appropriate type and quality. Clear communication at these stages provides your laboratory with information necessary for quoting accurate costs, enabling you to estimate your budget more accurately. Moreover, communication of project requirements at these stages allows your selected laboratory to become your partner in meeting your project Data Quality Objectives (DQOs). This entry discusses the type of information that must be communicated to achieve these goals.

What laboratory certifications are needed for your project? Do you need State certifications? How about Department of Defense (DoD) Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP) certification (not to be confused with State of California ELAP)? Perhaps you only need (or also need) a lab with National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP) certification? This information may be provided in your Statement of Work (SOW), Performance Work Statement (PWS) or Request for Proposal (RFP). However, if not provided, your client will expect you to determine what certifications are needed and ensure they are in place.

Once you have determined what certifications are needed, it’s important to ask your prospective laboratory to provide copies of the certifications with their quotation. If the certifications are due to expire soon, confirm the laboratory is taking the necessary steps for renewal.

It is wise to write the requirement into both your request for quotation (RFQ) and your contract that the necessary certifications be maintained and/or renewed and copies provided to you for the life of your project. Putting a contract in place with your laboratory helps ensure that the laboratory will prioritize your work and codifies both party’s expectations and requirements. It allows you to establish and enforce penalties and fee reductions for failure to perform or late delivery of data. Should such issues arise, a purchase order (PO) will not serve you well.

What else do you need to determine? What else does the laboratory need to know?

Methods and Parameters, as well as Compound Lists

Compound lists for methods are not the same for laboratories across the industry. For example, a laboratory will provide you with a lengthy compound list for SW-846 Method 8270D for Semivolatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs), but the list will not be the same for all laboratories. The laboratory target compound list (TCL) may not match the list for your project (which may also be called the “TCL”). The lab’s TCL may not match the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) TCL. Therefore, if you have specific target analytes to be addressed by your project, it is imperative to identify these for the laboratory.

Turn Around Times (TATs)

Are you performing remediation? Do you need expedited TATs for another reason? The quickest results will be available as preliminary data only; however, if you have taken care in selecting your laboratory, this shouldn’t be too scary.

You will need to budget for the laboratory’s mark-up for providing results to you at an expedited pace. Usually, the laboratory mark-ups, even at 100% or more, are considerably less than project $ spent on extended stand-by time.

The laboratory must agree to the expedited TATs up-front (during the bidding stage) and in advance of receiving the samples. Once your project is in full swing, you’ll be placing your bottle order (request for coolers and containers) at least a week in advance. The laboratory may be operating at close to capacity, so this is a good time to remind them of the expedited TATs required on the samples they’ll be receiving. If your project schedule has shifted, you will need to re-confirm that they can meet your TAT expectations.

Data Deliverable Expectations

You can usually save money by not using hard copy data packages. Many laboratories have portals you can use to download your data. If not, the data packages can be burned to CDs and shipped to you.

If your project requires data validation, it may be wise to request full Level IV packages (data summaries and raw data), so that any data quality concerns can be investigated immediately by your validators, without incurring a schedule delay waiting for the laboratory to deliver the additional data.

Additionally, your chemists and database managers may need to weigh in on the electronic data deliverable (EDD) requirements. What is needed for your validators and systems may not be the same format required by your client (be sure you have your location data and field data available too!)

Most labs include at least one EDD format in their costs; however, you may need to make budgetary adjustments if the laboratory will be required to produce two or more EDDs. It’s therefore wise for you and the laboratory to be aware of such needs during the bidding and planning stage.

Project Action Limits/Criteria

Whether your project action limits (PALs) are identified by your client or your team identifies the regulatory criteria for your PALs during project planning, there is a possibility that some values will be lower than your laboratory can achieve. You will need to know if there are alternate methods that can achieve quantitation limits (QLs) below these PALs and if your laboratory can perform them.

If your client has not identified methods for you and modifications to standard methodologies are commonly available that can achieve QLs less than your PALs, your client may expect you to identify and budget for the modified methods. This can easily be addressed during the laboratory bidding stage through direct communication with your prospective laboratories.

Alternately, some of your target compounds may have PALs too low for current methodology to achieve. This is because regulatory criteria are often based on toxicological studies run on biota, not on what current methodologies and instruments can “see”.

If your PALs are too low for current methodologies to achieve, you will need a plan to address this. You will not want to destroy a solid working relationship with your highly qualified laboratory by demanding they do the impossible, and you will not want to spend your schedule and budget chasing the wind. Communication of the proper requirements and the right time is the key to your success.


Although this article is written with environmental projects and analyses in mind, with appropriate adjustments, this approach can apply to various industries. If you have questions or comments, leave them in the comments section below. If you’d like to talk to Oak Services about writing your laboratory RFQ, procuring qualified laboratories, managing laboratories, and/or writing or reviewing your project plans, please, contact us and let us know what you’re looking for.

This article is based on the paper “Laboratory Data Quality and the Bottom Line” (McNeill & Thielke) at the 2007 EPA Annual Conference on Managing Environmental Quality Systems.

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