NSPE Gateway to Government Summer 2011
In This Issue of PEG e-News...

Ethical Awareness Evolves With Competency, Experience

There was a time that engineering ethics in public service was a seamless melding of technical competency and moral business principles, and doing things right also meant doing the right things. That ethical paradigm, of course, changed dramatically with the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia disasters in 1986 and 2003, respectively, significantly eroding public confidence in the U.S. manned space program. The ethical breaches in both of these tragic events revealed flaws in both technical design and management leadership.

Technical shortfalls and management conflicts have, indeed, blurred the ethical picture for today’s engineer in government. Compounding these issues is the fact engineers in government have a vested interest in ensuring that public funds and property are managed properly, a role that can sometimes require unpopular disclosure of activities promulgating extensive government waste and inefficiency.
Related to these interactions is the following premise: professional licensing determines competency level, whereas ethics help determine leadership and character in how business is conducted. Professional engineer Mark Dubbin, a fire protection engineer with the Las Cruces Fire Department in New Mexico, agrees that the premise is a fair assessment, noting, “I’ve often said, ‘Professionalism is a virtue, not a license.’ It’s more about how you conduct yourself and are respected by your peers rather than your resume and credentials.”

From a slightly different perspective, NSPE Deputy Director Arthur Schwartz, Esq., says, “I think it is a good starting point, although licensure informs ethics and the reverse is true as well,” meaning that each enlightens the other. “They are inextricably bound,” he emphasizes.

Dubbin, who serves on the NSPE Board of Ethical Review, points out that the line between legality and ethical conduct is not always clear. For instance, he notes that when one is acting as a faithful agent or trustee of the government at any level, it is important to avoid any conflict of interest. “Some engineers will try and serve two masters, some moonlighting as consultants or serving on a board or commission that has an opposing interest,” he explains. “They could find themselves involved in litigation trying to explain how they can be objective in both roles.”

“Even if they are not guilty of a crime,” he adds, “they may find themselves charged in civil litigation or penalized by their state for unethical practice. I’d say in many cases the line is not clear, and engineers faced with this decision would do well to consult with a peer or maybe even an attorney.” 
Both Schwartz and Dubbin have addressed major ethical issues, including conflicts of interest, unlicensed practice, protection of the public health and safety, obligations to the employer/agency vs. obligations to the public, changes to designs by contractors, “rubberstamped” plans, engineers with no control of the design, and engineers-of-record who have never physically been to the project or who are not involved with changes.

“In almost all cases,” Dubbin points out, “I’ve been able to resolve the issues by bringing the engineer back into the project, either by requiring the owner/developer to keep the engineer informed of the changes by requiring addendums and the engineer’s involvement.” Sometimes through direct communications, he adds, a conscientious engineer will step up and propose solutions to keep the project on track, particularly when changes or redirection require engineering expertise.

“The culture of some contractors has been to take care of conflicts as quickly as possible and not to involve the engineer, fearing it will delay the project,” Dubbin continues. “This culture is changing slowly. Many bonding companies, owners, and small contractors don’t understand licensure laws, requirements, liability of engineers, and responsible charge. I remind myself that I’m often the only engineer that might visit the site. Those of us who are in this role are ambassadors for the profession and should try to educate contractors who don’t know what the role of the engineer should be and why.”

The ethical culture is not without its challenge of perception, either, says Schwartz. “A significant part of ethics is appearances,” he emphasizes, “so even if something is technically legal, it could create the appearance of impropriety, cause embarrassment to the agency and its employees, or harm the public.”

Engineers often have to consider this “perception of impropriety,” Dubbin adds, especially in the public sector. “We are entrusted to be faithful agents of the citizens we serve and many times, their tax dollars or impact to their lives as well.” When considering the proper course of action, Dubbin always looks at the familiar newspaper publicity angle. “If you think a story describing your actions might cast you in a bad light, chances are that it’s probably something you should avoid,” he advises.

Advancing ethical behavior within any profession will always remain a challenge. And for engineering, it involves more than simply studying ethics or taking examinations as such. The process is ongoing and requires diplomacy, leadership, working with others, and earning the respect of coworkers, clients, and employees, according to Dubbin. “This is not a part of the certification or education process but is more about a person’s character and personality. It is only through your actions that your reputation will develop.”

If young engineers ask themselves what mentor has made an impact in their lives and why, Dubbin contends, they will often find these leaders have made some tough decisions based on their ethical beliefs and, hopefully, will try to do the right thing as a rule.

Schwartz expands on Dubbin’s ethical learning curve, emphasizing the importance for public agencies in “making it clear that ethics is a top priority at the highest levels of management,” exhibiting ethical leadership by example, and interactive ethics training, such as the customized programs offered by NSPE. 

Happenings on the Hill

NSPE participated in the U.S. Naval STEM Education Forum, where government, private industry, academic, and nonprofit professionals gathered to discuss best practices in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and learn about state-of-the-art educational technology research. Speakers included Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, National Academy of Engineering President Charles Vest, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Associate Director for Science Carl Wieman, Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Nevin Carr Jr., Space Warfare Systems Commander Rear Admiral Patrick Brady, Department of Education Office of Education Technology Director Karen Cator, DEKA Research and Development Corporation CEO Dean Kamen, and Bill Nye "the Science Guy," P.E.

•    The NSPE Legislative and Governmental Affairs Committee met at the Annual Meeting in Las Vegas to discuss the committee's goals for the coming year and determine NSPE's primary public policy agenda for 2011–12. Based on committee discussions and a recent survey of NSPE members, NSPE will focus on the following federal issues:

1.    Qualifications-based selection;

2.    STEM education;

3.    Good Samaritan protection for professional engineers;

4.    Energy;

5.    Licensure of federal engineers;

6.    Critical infrastructure and homeland security; and

7.    Infrastructure.

•    NSPE sent a letter with approximately 30 other professional and scientific organizations to the Office of Government Ethics supporting a proposed rule that would ease the way for federal employees to hold leadership positions in professional societies. The rule would clarify that serving in such roles was not a conflict of interest with federal employees' duties to the government, removing the legal concern that has prevented federal employees from holding leadership positions in the past.

•    NSPE sent a letter with the STEM Education Coalition to Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee leadership recommending that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act be reauthorized with a focus on improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. NSPE is a member of the STEM Education Coalition, which supports STEM programs for teachers and students at the Department of Education, National Science Foundation, and other agencies that offer STEM-related programs. The coalition is composed of more than 1,000 diverse groups representing all sectors of the technological workforce.

•    In May, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY-21) introduced the Engineering Education for Innovation Act (S. 969, H.R. 1951), which would provide grants to integrate engineering curricula and content into classrooms across the country. The bill's goals of increasing student achievement and interest in engineering, broadening the diversity of students participating in engineering, and developing a workforce prepared to teach engineering are critical to cultivating the next generation of engineers. The bill was first introduced in 2010 but failed to pass before the 111th Congress adjourned. NSPE sent a letter in February encouraging Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Tonko to reintroduce the bill.

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Levee Experts Continue Push for National Safety Program

In 2009, three NSPE members, professional engineers, and other experts from several agencies and the private sector, presented Congress with a draft of 20 recommendations for the National Levee Safety Program. Though little legislative progress has been made towards establishing a national program, the committee has been hard at work soliciting feedback on the recommendations and has developed a plan to strategically implement the interconnected suggestions.

To learn more about the work NSPE members are doing regarding the levee system, visit www.nspe.org and pick up a copy of the July 2011 PE magazine.

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PEGASUS winner

Sandra Knight is the recipient of the 2011 PEGASUS Award. Sandra is the Region 4 Director and member of the Tennessee Section of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) where she served as secretary since 2004. She was designated as an NSPE Fellow during the 2007 Annual Meeting and currently serves as chair for the NSPE Professional Engineers in Government committee.

Sandra has served as the county engineer for Bradley County, northeast of Chattanooga, for 15 years. She serves as the department head for Planning, Engineering, Building Inspection and Stormwater. She also works with the Road Department on drainage issues, bridge projects, right-of-way situations, county building and property projects, traffic signals, and other items that affect the County. Prior to working with Bradley County she spent over seven years with the Florida DOT in construction, three years with a private consultant in Chattanooga, and a short time as the Engineering Design Manager for the City of Chattanooga. She served as an alderman and building inspector for the Town of Decatur where she lived. She also served on the Planning Commission as the only engineer member.

Sandra is very active in the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers where she served three years as the national delegate and currently serves on the Political Action Committee and as the chair of the State Awards and the Legislative & Government Affairs Committees. She has also served on the TSPE Board of Directors since 1999.

An active member of ASCE, Sandra has served through all levels of the society; student, local, state, regional, and now national. She currently serves on the ASCE Strategic Planning Committee, Task Committee on Elections and Committee on Critical Infrastructure. She is a 1986 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Tennessee.

Sandra is currently the vice-chair for the Tennessee Association of Floodplain Managers, past chair for the Tennessee Stormwater Association, and on the Board of Directors for the Southeast Tennessee Chapter of InfraGard. She also serves on the Economic Development Council for the City of Cleveland/Bradley County and on the Industrial Technical Advisory Council for Cleveland State Community College. [ return to top ]

PEG Managment Study Fellowship Recipient

Fay Costa, P.E., LEED AP, is this year's PEG Managment Study Fellowship winner. Fay will receive $2,500 to pursue her Master’s degree in Environmental Management at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business.

Fay is a senior civil engineer at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Fay has had the opportunity to work on the Chicago area's deep tunnel and reservoir (TARP) system. Her current position is in the Maintenance and Operations Department and includes responsibilities such as working closing with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency on permit and compliance issues and managing department-wide projects. As a native and current resident of greater Chicago, she appreciates working on these challenging projects that affect the entire community. She earned a bachelor's of science in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Fay chose environmental engineering because of her life-long interest in preserving natural resources and engineering's practical approaches toward meeting these goals. Fay has enjoyed judging Future Cities competitions, and recently participated in a junior high school job fair, exposing many students to engineering careers for the first time. Fay is currently pursuing a master's degree in environmental management at the Illinois Institute of Technology's Stuart School of Business. She anticipates that this degree will provide her with the tools that are necessary to solve the next generation of environmental and public works challenges facing Chicago, Illinois, the nation, and the world. [ return to top ]

A Field Guide For Inspection of Sewerage and Drainage Construction

An inspector plays a crucial role in any construction project. The job demands knowledge, awareness, keen observation skills, and the ability to deal with contractors and project owners. “A Field Guide For Inspection of Sewerage and Drainage Construction”, published by the Professional Engineers in Construction, provides the inspector with the necessary knowledge to inspect sewerage and drainage construction projects.

The guide, specifically written to advance the mission of high-quality construction standards, provides a series of proven policies, established procedures and techniques, and helpful resources including inspection checklists that are applicable to construction projects on any size or scale.

NSPE members can download the guide at http://www.nspe.org/fieldguide for $9.95 Nonmembers can purchase the guide for $19.95. [ return to top ]

NSPE/PEG Federal Engineer of the Year Award

The Federal Engineer of the Year is selected by a panel of judges established by NSPE-PEG who consider engineering achievements, education, continuing education, professional/technical society activities, NSPE membership, awards, honors, and civic and humanitarian activities. Candidates are nominated by their employing federal agency. The agency must employ at least 50 engineers worldwide.

The winners will be honored at a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in February 2012.

Go to the NSPE Web site (www.nspe.org/FEYA) to download the Federal Engineer of the Year Award application. Nominations must first be submitted to your agency's point of contact/human resources department for approval. Deadline for submissions is October 31, 2011.

Check out the 2011 top 10 federal engineers and NSPE/PEG Federal Engineer of the Year Vincent P. Sobash, P.E., from the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, on the NSPE Web site.

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Get a Head Start on Your Fall Education

The NSPE Fall Webinar Series in taking shape. Already available for purchase are the Ethics Forum Webinars. 

Member price per Webinar is $99, for the series of three $165
Nonmember price per Webinar is $99, for the series of three $265

September 28, 2011 
Conflicts of Interest: Will Proposed Federal Rules Impact Engineering Practice? 

Newly proposed federal organizational conflict of interest rules could have a serious effect on the design and construction industry. The proposed rules make substantial changes to existing organizational conflict of interest requirements for engineering and construction firms doing business with the federal government.

This Webinar will examine these proposed requirements and related issues, and a panel of experts will examine a series of case studies relating to conflicts of interest, disclosure requirements, professional objectivity and bias, and other issues. 1 PDH

October 19, 2011
Confronting an Ethics Disaster: What Can Professional Engineers Do? 

What can you and your company or organization do when faced with an ethics catastrophe? How do you investigate the problem, prepare a response, manage and limit the harm, avoid similar problems in the future, and stabilize your company or organization in order to move forward? 

This Webinar will examine all of these and other issues, and a panel of experts will discuss case studies relating to objectivity and truthfulness, obligation to act as a faithful agent and trustee, avoidance of deceptive acts, and other issues. 1 PDH

November 9, 2011
Whistleblowing: What Are the PE’s Obligations to Report Misconduct? 

What should a professional engineer do when confronted with organizational wrongdoing? What are the appropriate steps to take and stages to consider when wrestling with your obligation of loyalty to your employer/client and your professional obligation to the public? 

This Webinar will examine all of these and other issues, and a panel of experts will discuss a series of case studies relating to knowledge of violations, duty to report and cooperate with the appropriate authorities, obligation to act as a faithful agent and trustee, public health and safety, and other issues. 1 PDH

Other Webinars planned for the fall include: 

·         Harnessing the Power of Change;
·         How to Get Your First Job;
·         How to Get Your Next Job;
·         Career Transitions; and
·         Project Management, Design, Construction Management and Ethics for Professionals.

Register today! [ return to top ]

2011-12 PEG Executive Board Contact Information

David Alan Janover, P.E.

Kirankumar Topudurti, Ph.D., P.E.

Scott Wolf, PE, PLS

Immediate Past-Chair
Sandra Knight, PE, F.NSPE, F.ASCE


Northeastern Region Vice Chair

Southeastern Region Vice Chair
Bill Bowie, PE

Central Region Vice Chair

Southwest Region Vice Chair
Mark Dubbin, PE

Western & Pacific Region Vice Chair

North Central Region Vice Chair
Donald Neumann, P.E.

Young Engineer Representative
D. Scott Wolf, PE, PLS

HOD Representative

Sandra Knight, PE, F.NSPE, F.ASCE


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