NSPE Gateway to Government Summer 2012
In This Issue of PEG e-News...

Replacement of Licensed Engineers Still Persists in New York

For several years, professional engineers employed in municipal government throughout New York have been challenged in curbing a disturbing trend that could adversely affect public safety: the replacement of PEs with non-licensed individuals. Aside from the vital health and safety concerns, these imprudent actions point to a lack of basic knowledge of state statutes regarding engineering practice.

 

The following is a recap of significant events since 2009 that define the alarming ripple effect spreading to New York municipalities:

  • The town of Colonie did not reappoint its longtime public works commissioner—who is a professional engineer—and replaced him with a non-licensed individual, directly contradicting the town law’s requirement of a PE license to hold the position.
  • Syracuse amended its city charter and hired a non-licensed individual to replace its water commissioner who took a job with the Mohawk Valley Water Authority in Utica. Ironically, his unlicensed replacement was reported to make a higher salary, implying that economic stress was not a leading factor in the selection process.
  • New York City hired a non-licensed engineer as commissioner of the buildings department, resulting in a lawsuit being filed against the mayor by the New York State Society of Professional Engineers (NYSSPE).
  • The New York State Board for Engineering and Land Surveying forwarded a letter to the New York City Department of Buildings stating that the commissioner’s duties are considered the practice of engineering and should be executed by a licensed engineer as required by the New York State Education Law. Despite being notified, the agency continues to defy the law.
  • Similar correspondence from the engineering and surveying licensing board confirmed that certain construction inspections—known as special inspections which include sprinkler systems and sanitary piping—are also the practice of engineering and should be performed by a licensed engineer. Again, despite being reminded, the agency continues to defy the law.
  • Both the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro North Railroad hired non-licensed engineers to serve in their top positions.
  • In its former classified ads soliciting candidates for public works superintendent, Washington County stated that it would consider a non-PE for the position.

Professional Engineer David Janover, town engineer for Islip, located on Long Island with a population of 330,000, notes that when a when a municipality hires a licensed professional in a top management or supervisory role, there is a level of professionalism that is expected. Moreover, most licensed professionals have a network of colleagues to consult when necessary and are incredibly resourceful, which are unique qualities deserving merit among high-level management and supervisory personnel.

 

“It is my opinion that the level of integrity brought to bear by a licensed professional as compared to a political appointee will more likely be at a higher level,” Janover contends. “This is because the licensed professional, such as a PE, has much more to lose than the political appointee counterpart. If a licensed engineer is pressured to act in any way that is considered unethical, his license and the ability to practice his livelihood may be at stake. There is a higher authority, and I believe that keeps a great deal of us in line should the possibility of temptation rear its head.”

 

Janover also admits that neighboring municipalities often tend to act similarly regarding matters of administrative policy. For example, if Municipality A removes a licensed professional from its public works division as an economic measure, then neighboring Municipality B will observe this action and possibly be pressured into following suit, particularly during recessive economies.

 

To counter this influence, he suggests that professional organizations need to move forward with open dialogue in municipalities across the United States for the expressed purpose of discouraging behavior that could jeopardize public safety and possibly expose local governments to additional liability risk. Former NYSSPE President Donald Nims, P.E., who agrees, has tasked a professional compliance committee with developing a protocol to concisely state the Society’s position and provide alternatives to simply removing the PE requirement, in addition to informing municipal representatives of the consequences of practicing engineering illegally.

 

Of course, making the case for professional accountability vs. tight municipal budgets can be a hard sell, and Janover knows firsthand the types of issues that local government officials face daily. “In situations where non-licensed personnel serve in positions of responsibility, a municipality may need to rely on outside professional consultants as needed to provide the necessary knowledge in design or inspection services,” he points out. “This alternative, however, will most likely result in a higher cost to the municipality than the difference of the salary between a licensed and non-licensed individual.”

 

Janover further explains that a non-licensed individual serving in a public managerial capacity could eventually find himself or herself in a position of making decisions that fall into the category of engineering practice, thereby raising questions of legality and increasing liability risk for the municipality involved.

 

Undoubtedly, a number of town councils or governing boards are entertaining resolutions of varying degrees to remove the PE license requirement as a condition for holding a critical job position. “They may believe they are legally following proper procedure,” says Janover, “but if it is deemed that engineering duties are the responsibility of this position, it will be considered illegal by New York to have a nonengineer practicing engineering.”

 

An experienced and licensed engineering professional can strike a balance in meeting the needs of the political machine, while keeping paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public, Janover emphasizes. “Knowing the limitations, understanding the risks involved, and having the ability to communicate effectively to political motivators are key requisites for public engineering professionals serving in today’s municipal environments,” he notes.

 

The Role of the Consulting Engineer: Procurement of Engineering Services

Engineers are first and foremost responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the public when applying their education and experience to advance the quality of life. It is generally recognized by state and local agencies that engineers should be selected to perform professional services on the basis of qualifications, experience, ability to interpret client needs, the professional skills to develop technical plans and specifications, and at a fair and reasonable price.

The value of an engineered project is in its design. A well designed and properly constructed project may save many times the engineer’s fee in reduced initial construction costs, fewer surprises during construction, minimal change orders and construction extras, and minimum life cycle cost. The engineer should have the ability to apply professional judgment to the challenge presented by the client and should have the flexibility to explore innovative systems and construction options to improve project functions, reduce life cycle costs, and minimize construction costs.

Purchase for only $5.95 in the NSPE online shop [ return to top ]

Happenings on the Hill

  • NSPE joined an international group of engineering societies in endorsing the U.N.'s "Sustainable Energy for All" initiative. The program seeks to ensure universal access to modern energy services, double energy efficiency rates worldwide, and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030.

  • NSPE cosponsored the 2012 Engineering Public Policy Symposium, which was held in conjunction with the National Academy of Engineering Convocation and the American Association of Engineering Societies Awards. Entitled "Outlook for Federal Funding of Research and Development," the symposium featured remarks by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, National Institute of Standards and Technology Director Patrick Gallagher, Acting Undersecretary of Energy Arun Majumdar, Reps. Judy Biggert (R-IL-13) and Rush Holt (D-NJ-12), and National Science Foundation Engineering Directorate Deputy Assistant Director Kesh Narayanan.

  • The USA Science & Engineering Festival was held in Washington, D.C., in April. NSPE was a festival partner and sponsored a booth featuring an engineering activity where children and parents built catapults for launching Ping Pong balls while learning about engineering design and simple machines. The festival has gained the support of the president and has an honorary congressional host committee of 22 senators and 73 representatives.

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NSPE Education On Demand

Learn how to communicate more clearly, both verbally and in writing. Find out how to cut costs and take better control of your bottom line. Learn more about how to approach decision making in an ethical manner, and how the history of these decisions can give you perspective on your own challenges. Finally, get your ethics requirements covered by the authority on the subject.

Each of our archived Web seminars is $69 for nonmembers and $35 for members.

Visit our Web site to see a full list of our archived Web seminars.  [ return to top ]

NSPE Aims to Define Body of Knowledge

NSPE leaders are in the beginning stages of drafting a document that will detail the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are necessary for practice as a professional engineer.

NSPE's Engineering Body of Knowledge, once adopted, would serve as a formal statement on the level of achievement professional engineers should demonstrate in various topics and skills. While other organizations have developed discipline-specific bodies of knowledge, NSPE's BOK would aim to be applicable to all engineering disciplines. The multiyear effort is being led by NSPE's Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee.

The first draft of the NSPE Engineering BOK covers three areas: guiding principles affecting practice as an engineer in the future, key attributes of the engineer of the future, and outcomes. Once the draft has been reviewed internally and comments have been received, informal comments will be sought from other engineering organizations.

Read more in the blog posting "NSPE Engineering Body of Knowledge Outline: First Draft."  [ return to top ]

201112 PEG Executive Board Contact Information

Chair
David Alan Janover, P.E.

Chair-Elect
Kirankumar Topudurti, Ph.D., P.E.

Secretary
Scott Wolf, P.E., PLS

Immediate Past-Chair
Sandra Knight, P.E., F.NSPE, F.ASCE

Northeastern Region Vice Chair
David N. Rackmales, P.E.

Southeastern Region Vice Chair
Bill Bowie, PE

Central Region Vice Chair
Dr. Scott Haraburda, P.E., Ph.D.

Southwest Region Vice Chair
Mark Dubbin, P.E.

Western & Pacific Region Vice Chair
Patrick M. Coullahan, P.E., PMP, CFM

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

Young Engineer Representative
Josh Aldred, P.E.

HOD Representative
Sandra Knight, P.E., F.NSPE, F.ASCE


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