Principals of ten consulting geotechnical engineering firms – then known as soil and foundation engineering firms – met in a Chicago airport hotel in December 1968 to resolve a common problem that threatened their companies: Professional-liability claims were at an all-time high and professional-liability insurers worldwide refused to cover them.
The ten formally launched Associated Soil and Foundation Engineers, Inc. in May 1969 to identify the causes of professional liability claims and losses and to develop programs and materials to help geoprofessionals avoid such exposures in the future. (As explained below, the organization in 1985 abandoned “Associated Soil and Foundation Engineers,” formally changing its name to ASFE, Inc. )
Within one year of its formation, ASFE launched a new contract provision called limitation of liability. Its inclusion in proposals prompted representatives of ASFE-Member Firms and their clients to discuss project risks during the contract-formation process. One result was agreement about the maximum amount for which a firm would be liable as a consequence of its negligence. Another was a review of why such limits were appropriate and the actions clients and their geoprofessionals could pursue together to manage risk. Today, limitation of liability is a common element of contracts developed by all types of design and environmental professionals nationwide.
ASFE has continued to pioneer new concepts. Fundamentals of Professional Practice (FOPP), a unique six-month professional-development program introduced in 1972, and updated continually since, is often described as "tough love for a firm's rising stars.”
In 1973, ASFE created the construction industry's first new alternative dispute-resolution (ADR) method since the 1870s, and went on to champion several other new approaches to resolving disputes.
In 1977, ASFE brought organizational Peer Review to the design professions, and then helped the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) develop programs based on the ASFE model. Through Peer Review, firms enhance the quality of their performance by having their methods and materials reviewed and critiqued by experienced peers.
ASFE-Member Firms underwent a transformation in the mid-1980s, as they expanded their staffs and service mixes to provide expertise to the then-emerging field of hazardous waste remediation and attendant environmental services. They have continued to evolve, and today provide geotechnical, geologic, environmental, construction materials engineering and testing, and related geoprofessional services.
It was ASFE-Member Firms’ broadened focus that impelled the organization – then well-known by its “ASFE” acronym – to formally change its name to ASFE, Inc. Today, the organization is ASFE/The Geoprofessional Business Association, a name that immediately connotes what ASFE is all about: Business. But it’s professional business, and to help improve conditions, ASFE exists to maximize the geoprofessions’ importance and value to the marketplace. Regrettably, all too many geoprofessional practitioners have permitted themselves to become commoditized and marginalized. As a result, geoprofessional issues give rise to more construction-industry claims than any others. By relying on quality-focused geoprofessionals – trusted geoprofessional advisors – owners and other clients can save time and money, as explained in ASFE’s Geoprofessionals’ Value Proposition. ASFE is committed to getting that message to clients and those who influence clients’ purchasing decisions, to create demand for high-quality geoprofessional services. It is likewise committed to creating continually more trusted geoprofessional advisors, to meet that demand, by doing the one thing it has always done so well: Innovate. Among other examples of that innovation are: effective strategies to overcome the spurious testimony of "hired-gun" experts; "live," in-your-office BackYard seminars that provide high-quality instruction for an extraordinarily low cost; model contracts, reports, letters, memos, proposal and report inserts, and extranet waiver language; audio-education programs for office and field staffs; video-training programs for group and individual application; books, manuals, guides, monographs, and other printed guidance materials; and even an electronic game show.
Typifying its innovative thinking, ASFE has since "day one" made virtually all of its materials available to members free of cost and in unlimited quantities. ASFE exists to help its members: When you belong to ASFE, ASFE belongs to you.