NSPE Gateway to Government Winter 2010/2011
In This Issue of PEG e-News...

Public Safety Potentially At Risk In Some New York Municipalities

Steven Storts

Generally speaking, the unseen chain reactions that occur every day through the laws of nature, science, and physics are a good thing; they help sustain life. Sometimes, however, a chain reaction has the opposite effect, creating a potential for adversity to public safety. Such is the case in several New York municipalities where professional engineers in public service have been replaced with unlicensed individuals. To the engineering community, these actions defy prudence, if not basic common sense.

The following examples point to the disturbing ripple throughout New York:

  • The town of Colonie did not reappoint its longtime public works commissioner—who is a professional engineer—and replaced him with an unlicensed individual, directly contradicting the town’s law of a PE license to hold the position.
  • Syracuse amended its city charter and hired an unlicensed individual to replace its water commissioner who took a job with the Mohawk Valley Water Authority in Utica. Ironically, his unlicensed replacement will be making a higher salary, according to online news sources, which implies that economic stress was not a leading factor in the selection process.
  • New York City hired an unlicensed engineer as commissioner of buildings, resulting in a lawsuit being filed against the mayor by the New York State Society of Professional Engineers (NYSSPE).
  • In its classified ads soliciting candidates for public works superintendent, Washington County has stated that it would consider a non-PE for the position, although to date, the county’s Web site still lists the previous licensed engineer in this post.

David Janover, P.E., town engineer for Islip, a small municipality of 330,000 located on Long Island, points out, “While I am unaware of other levels of public agencies following this trend, I am concerned that this could catch on and spread as neighboring municipalities tend to act similarly.” His contention is that if Municipality A removes a licensed professional from its public works division and saves money, then neighboring Municipality B will see this and may be pressured into following suit, particularly during recessive economies.

To counter this trend, Janover suggests that professional organizations need to be the “voice of reason” in moving forward with open dialogue in municipalities across the United States, all for the purpose of expressing concern and discouraging behavior that could jeopardize public safety and possibly burden local governments from a liability standpoint.     

For instance, not only is NYSSPE engaged in a legal harangue with government officials from the city of New York, it also stands behind a Colonie resident who has filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court. His suit alleges several violations of local and state laws by actions promulgated by the town supervisor and governing board, among those being the replacement of Colonie’s public works commissioner with a non-PE.

James Yarmus, P.E., in addressing the Colonie supervisor back in January as president of NYSSPE, emphasized, “We realize that due to the economy, there may be a desire to reorganize your operations; however, such changes should not interfere with sound professional judgment. Removing the professional engineer’s requirement from a position that is so immersed in technical decision-making is not a wise way to streamline operations.”

Yarmus also published an editorial earlier this year in the Buffalo News, opining that the unlicensed individuals replacing qualified professionals may be certified by new groups to “create the illusion of competency and to generate the needed perception of legitimacy for the appointee.”

So how does the engineering community make the case for professional accountability versus tight municipal budgets?

Janover knows firsthand the types of issues that local government officials face daily. “In situations where unlicensed personnel serve in positions of responsibility, a municipality may need to rely on outside professional consultants to provide the necessary knowledge in design or inspection services,” he explains. “This alternative, however, will most likely result in a higher cost to the municipality than the difference of the salary between a licensed and an unlicensed individual.”

Additionally, he says that if the commissioner of a local public works department is not a PE, some municipalities may rely on laborers or other experienced field personnel to make engineering decisions. This approach, he warns, could have potentially serious repercussions involving decision-making at a higher level beyond one’s pay grade (a civil service issue). Should any contentious issues arise as a result of such decisions, the municipality will be in a disadvantageous position.

Indeed, Janover’s warning is actually good advice. As shown earlier in a number of instances, town councils or governing boards have entertained resolutions to remove the PE license requirement as a condition for holding a critical job position. “They may believe that they are legally following the proper procedure,” says Janover, “but if it is deemed that engineering duties are the responsibility of this position, it is considered illegal by New York to have a nonengineer performing engineering.”

Some municipalities, he adds, have skirted the licensing issue by having a deputy commissioner or lower-ranked individual within the public agency be responsible for the engineering duties, while the commissioner (unlicensed) is responsible for administrative decisions. However, this approach, too, is likely to raise legal concerns should administrative duties sometimes contravene the practice of engineering, casting doubt in the public’s perception of its elected and appointed officials to act responsibly.

“I see the hiring of a licensed professional from the onset as its own insurance policy,” Janover observes. “The bottom line is that when the safety, health, and welfare of the public are at stake, we cannot afford to cut corners. Taxpayers deserve a professional in the administration of a public works hierarchy. From a budgetary standpoint, municipalities should be aware of the higher cost over time by not hiring licensed individuals at the top. The risk and liability assumed by any municipality could be substantially minimized in this way.”

Happenings on the Hill

NSPE Member Elected to Congress

NSPE member David McKinley, P.E. (R-WV-1), was elected to the House of Representatives. He is one of two professional engineers to serve in Congress. [The other is Rep. Joe Barton, P.E. (R-TX-6).] McKinley has been an NSPE member since 1972. NSPE-PAC supported his campaign for office.

McKinley holds a B.S. in civil engineering from Purdue University. He spent 12 years in the construction industry before establishing his own architectural and engineering firm, McKinley and Associates.

Structural Engineers Seek Separate Licensure

Structural engineering groups in Texas have been pursuing separate licensure of structural engineers. In addition to Texas, four other states are working to enact structural engineering legislation: Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Minnesota. NSPE opposes separate licensure of engineering disciplines, believing that additional licensure is divisive to the profession. Further, PEs are already ethically bound to practice only in their areas of expertise.

Forty-three of 54 engineering licensure jurisdictions license engineers only as professional engineers. Since 1974, only one previously generic licensure state has converted to a practice act for structural engineers. The NSPE Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee has prepared talking points, which are available upon request.

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NSPE Announces FEYA Top Ten

Sponsored by NSPE and the Professional Engineers in Government, the Federal Engineer of the Year Award recognizes federal engineers for their commitment, innovation, and value in service to our nation. Contributions from the private sector help us celebrate these agency-nominated engineers and are important to the continued success of this nationally recognized program.

Each year, federal engineers from across the country are nominated by their employing agency, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Naval Facilities Command, the U.S. Air Force, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy. These nominees are then judged and ranked against each other. On February 18, 2010, engineering leaders from both the private and public sectors will recognize the agency winners, the top 10 finalists, and the individual selected to win the Federal Engineer of the Year Award at a luncheon and ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. 

To learn more about the Federal Engineer of the Year Award program and see who was chosen for this year's Federal Engineer of the Year Award "Top 10", visit the FEYA Web page.


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Nominate Fellow Engineers for NSPE Awards

NSPE offers several awards that have upcoming deadlines in 2011. Below are just a few of the award programs NSPE will be conducting this year.

To see the complete list of NSPE awards, please visit the NSPE Awards Web page

PEGASUS Award (March 31 Deadline)
The Professional Engineers in Government is administering the annual PEGASUS Award program. The Professional Engineer in Government Achievement and Service in the United States Award recognizes the engineer who has made the most outstanding contribution to the advancement and practice of engineering. The PEGASUS Award will honor a licensed professional engineer employed by a state, regional, county, special district, or municipal government.

Mentor of the Year Award (March 31 Deadline)
The Mentor of the Year Award is given each year to the one member of NSPE who best exemplifies the ideal image of a mentor. The award may be given to an individual who has established a record of consistent outreach toward individuals in the engineering field, including engineering professionals and students, over a number of years. This award can also be received by an individual who has contributed to support or development of mentoring programs within their company or in the engineering community. The ideal candidate should have a record of achievement in offering guidance to and fostering development among engineering professionals.


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Management Study Fellowship Deadline Approaches

The Professional Engineers in Government's $2,500 Management Study Fellowship is now accepting applications. The fellowship is awarded to an engineer pursuing advanced studies in management. It is available to any Engineer Intern or licensed professional engineer from any discipline. Applicants who are not U.S. citizens may apply if they are current NSPE members.

To download an application, please visit the NSPE/PEG Web site.

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2010-11 PEG Executive Board Contact Information

Sandra Knight, P.E., F.NSPE, M.ASCE

John Cardarelli II, Ph.D., P.E.

Mr David Alan Janover, P.E.

Immediate Past-Chair
Louise Carosi Doyle, P.E., F.NSPE

Northeastern Region Vice Chair

D. Scott Wolf, PE, PLS

Southeastern Region Vice Chair
Bill Bowie, PE

Central Region Vice Chair
Kirankumar Topudurti, Ph.D., P.E.

Southwest Region Vice Chair
Mark Dubbin, P.E.

Western & Pacific Region Vice Chair
Michael Simpson, P.E.

North Central Region Vice Chair
Gary J. Pendergrass, P.E., RG

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