NSPE's Gateway to Private Practice Winter 2011/2012 

Letter from PEPP Chair, Andrea N Martinez-Graves, P.E.
Andrea N Martinez-Graves, P.E.

I hope you and your families all had a safe and happy holiday season! I still cannot believe the holidays are gone and we’re now a few weeks into 2012. PEPP has some great things planned for 2012, so keep your eye out for more information in the coming months.

We are continuing work on our Social Media Campaign, which as I’ve previously discussed is our newest product we are working to develop. How many times have you read a book, heard a presentation, or participated in a class that you’ve felt other engineers would really enjoy or find helpful? Or on the reverse side, how many times have you wished you had a good source to learn more about a certain topic? Our goal is to set up a way to quickly and efficiently get this valuable information to our members. The first step is gathering some of the information we would like to share. This will give us a stepping off point for the entire project. The first two topics we are focusing on are “Thinking Like an Owner” and “Personal Development.” Do you have a resource on one of these topics that you’d like to share? Do you have another topic you are interested in hearing more about? Please feel free to forward your suggestions and recommendations!

I often feel that there is a disconnect between our PEPP members and our PEPP Executive Committee. We’ve got NSPE staff and PEPP volunteers hard at work to make PEPP a valuable service to our members, but many times our members really don’t know what we are doing. In an attempt to bridge this gap, I will be highlighting one of the many committees that are working hard to bring value to you. So by the time I turn over the PEPP Chair position in July, I hope you all feel you’ve got a better handle on what we are doing and what services we are providing. And remember, if you see a committee that you would be interested in knowing more about or getting involved with, please let us know!

This month I’d like to highlight our Synergy HR/CFO Roundtable.

For more than 25 years, the NSPE Professional Engineers in Private Practice has hosted the Human Resource Directors’ Roundtable. The participants are a unique community of human resource professionals in the engineering industry who come together for two days in the spring for continuing education, the opportunity to network with peers, and to share best practices. In 2009, the HR Roundtable was combined with another NSPE/PEPP roundtable for finance professionals in the engineering industry to form Synergy.

At Synergy human resource directors; financial professionals; and partners from architecture, engineering, and construction firms benchmark current activities, discuss emerging trends and issues, participate in continuing education networks with peers, and share best practices. The two groups participate in joint sessions sharing their unique views on topics of importance to both.

Pete Koval, P.E., represents PEPP on the planning committee which is made up of past participants from both the HR and finance sides, as well as NSPE staff.

Synergy will be held in Alexandria, Virginia, on May 2–4, 2012.

Registration will begin February 7. For more information check the NSPE Web site. (http://www.nspe.org/Education/Events/index.html)

Professional Liability/Risk Management: Signing and Sealing Instruments of Service Prepared by Another Engineer
In some instances, engineers are asked to review and place their seal and signature on instruments of service prepared by others. There are no standard contracts for such a service. Care must be taken that any contract used and fee required recognize the required review intrinsic in such an arrangement so that state registration law requirements are met. In any event, the many risks created by this situation should be cautiously allocated. Few of the risks of performing such a service for another engineer, however, are professional liability concerns; risk comes mainly from state registration requirements.

State registration laws exist to protect the interests of the public by only permitting the licensing of individuals with a demonstrated level of experience and competence. States, through their professional licensing laws, control or regulate activities affecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Therefore, licensed engineers have a duty not only to their client but to the public in general. The signing and sealing of documents provides evidence that a properly licensed and authorized individual has been “in responsible charge” of the preparation of the design and the documents expressing that design.

Under state law, a thorough code review may be sufficient for the local firm signing and sealing the drawings to meet the requirements of being in responsible charge of the project. From a professional liability perspective, the firm signing and sealing the documents is not the only firm “on the hook” for negligence; if the negligence is attributable to the original engineer or other firm providing professional services on the project, they will be held responsible as well. Signing and sealing a document does not absolve prior firms from being responsible. Regardless of the legal status of the original firm and the firm providing code review, it would still make sense for the reviewing firm to be contractually protected against the negligence of the originating firm.

The engineer actually signing and sealing the instruments of service may want to have a comprehensive indemnity obligation from the client that goes as far as indemnification for the defense of the engineer’s license in any state registration board disciplinary action. If the signing and sealing of the instruments of service of another are seen as an unlawful act by the state registration board, any indemnity would probably be void as being against public policy.

Signing and sealing the documents of another without knowing facts that must be known or exercising due diligence in carefully examining the documents would be negligence in and of itself if the action did not meet state registration laws. While this negligence could lead to a claim that is defended by professional liability insurance, any state registration board action would not be covered by a professional liability insurance policy.

© 2011, Victor O. Schinnerer & Company, Inc. Statements concerning legal matters should be understood to be general observations based solely on our experience as risk consultants and may not be relied upon as legal advice, which we are not authorized to provide. All such matters should be reviewed with a qualified advisor. Victor O. Schinnerer & Company Inc. is managing underwriter for the CNA/Schinnerer Professional Liability Insurance Program, commended by NSPE/PEPP since 1957.

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Happenings on the Hill

NSPE and the Council on Federal Procurement of Architectural and Engineering Services met with General Services Administration Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Steve Kempf to discuss the need for GSA to bring its Federal Supply Schedules into compliance with the Brooks Act (PL 92-582). NSPE is a founding member of COFPAES, an organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the Brooks Act and the use of qualifications-based selection.

NSPE Achieves Major Legislative Victory

After a five-year battle, NSPE helped overturn an onerous tax-withholding mandate that would have placed significant financial and administrative burdens on engineering firms and other businesses that contract with the government. H.R. 674, which was signed into law on November 21, 2011, repeals a requirement that federal, state, and certain local governments withhold as tax 3% of all payments made to government contractors. The tax would have taken effect on January 1, 2013.

The tax would have provided an interest-free loan to the government while causing cash flow problems for engineering firms and other businesses, costing them the vital funds they need to conduct day-to-day business. Rather than pay taxes at the end of the year, the government would have withheld 3% of contract fees up front, forcing firms to attempt to recoup their expenses at the end of the year.

Since the withholding requirement's passage in 2006, NSPE has been working with the Government Withholding Relief Coalition and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to repeal the mandate. NSPE also sent a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI-4) in support of the repeal. In addition to NSPE's advocacy of H.R. 674, NSPE members responded to an NSPE Legislative Action Center alert asking them to contact their senators in support of the bill, helping to build a critical mass of opinion that ensured the bill passed.

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FE Exam Results Should Be Public Information
Craig Musselman, P.E., F.NSPE

Performance statistics for the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination issued by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) are forwarded each year to universities and to state PE licensing boards that request them. These reports are an outstanding tool for programs to use in determining curriculum strengths and weaknesses, and formulating plans for improvement. More and more, university engineering programs are using FE exam reports as an outcomes assessment tool, which is one of the critical components of ABET accreditation processes.

These exam results would also be of value to students and to the public, but pass-rate data is not availble to the public. Since many universities and all state PE boards are public entities, the information may be available by public information request under the laws of each state, but the information is generally, perhaps uniformly, not publicized.

The engineering profession should consider the benefits of requiring that a two- or three-year running average of FE exam pass rates be made publicly available, perhaps on the institution’s engineering program Web site, by university and by program. A two- or three-year running average might be considered because results can vary significantly from class to class, but a longer-term running average takes out that variable. And it might be made available by program because the data may be far more valid for programs such as civil or environmental engineering, where 90% of graduates will need to be licensed in order to practice engineering, as opposed to electrical engineering, where perhaps only 10% of the graduates take the PE exam and become professional engineers.

The benefits of doing this are several. Students and parents who are selecting engineering programs should have access to information on the performance of the program’s graduates. It is an indicator of the quality of the program and the academic talent of the engineering students. It is of particular importance to parents and students who are entering a field of study that requires licensure to practice professionally to know the past history of the program’s graduates in passing the FE exam. There are some EAC-ABET accredited programs that consistently have very low pass rates on the FE exam (at least that’s what I’ve heard for years; I’ve never seen the data). In that case, parents and students have a right to know that. It may not be an inalienable right, but it is a reasonable right. The publication of the data also would create a significant incentive for programs with poor performance to improve. That could encourage “teaching to the test,” but in this specific case, perhaps that is a necessary and good thing.

What is the downside? There will be initial push-back from institutions that will not want to publicize these results. Representatives of some disciplines will argue that the FE exam isn’t fully relevant to their curricula and publishing skewed results will be an unreliable indicator of their program’s quality. Some programs require all students to at least attempt the FE exam in order to graduate, and in these cases some students who don’t anticipate needing to be licensed don’t make a good faith effort. This can skew results. And some institutions will probably contend that publishing these results doesn’t reflect on the problems they face in educating incoming students with poor academic preparedness; East Podunk State just isn’t Stanford, and can’t be expected to be. Perhaps in the case of a program that has consistently extremely poor performance on the FE exam, the program might consider curriculum and program changes, including changing to a technology program rather than an engineering program.  There is, however, some concern that programs with consistently poor performance might not encourage students to take the FE exam in the future if the data is published and ranked. Another downside is that curricula vary from school to school. The goal of the FE exam for outcomes assessment is not to shape the curriculum to teach to the exam. It is to allow schools to assess how they are doing in the areas that they do teach. A school where civil engineers don’t take, say, thermodynamics, may do better in the areas their curriculum covers, but a school that requires thermo may have a better pass rate. Overall, I contend that all of these downsides are outweighed by the benefits.

U.S. architectural programs are required by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (the architects’ equivalent to ABET) to publish the performance of their graduates on the NCARB examinations, given after gaining experience (the equivalent of the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam). Here is the NAAB requirement:

“Annually, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards publishes pass rates for each section of the Architect Registration Examination by institution. This information is considered to be useful to parents and prospective students as part of their planning for higher/post-secondary education. Therefore, programs are required to make this information available to current and prospective students and their parents either by publishing the annual results or by linking their website to the results.”

NCEES should consider the possibility of similarly publishing the pass rates for the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam by university and by program. This would likely require gathering additional data beyond what is gathered currently. Perhaps starting with making the FE exam pass rates public could be followed in future years with the PE exam results.

The FE exam results currently are nearly secret. If I were an incoming student in an engineering field that requires exam passage in order to practice at a professional level, or a parent paying $100,000 or so for such a college education, I would want to know if the institution’s graduates only pass 30% of the time, or 60% of the time, or whatever. They have a reasonable right to know that. And programs with graduates experiencing a very low pass rate have a need to know that, and to be accountable for improvement.

It’s time to come clean, and let the chips fall where they may.

This item has been reviewed and edited by L. Robert Smith, P.E., F.NSPE, and Bernard R. Berson, P.E., P.L.S., F.NSPE.

The author is a Fellow of NSPE and ACEC, a Distinguished Member of ASCE, a Board Certified Environmental Engineer, the Chair of the NSPE Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee, and a member of the ABET Board of Directors. The opinions expressed herein are his own and do not reflect the views of any of these organizations.

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Educate Yourself with NSPE Online Web Seminars

Celebrate the New Year with big savings on your next on-demand course purchase. NSPE is offering an almost 30% discount on all of our on-demand courses. Choose from a variety of topics available 24/7.

Also, don't miss NSPE's live Webinars slated for Spring 2012... 

Communicating Clearly
This session presents tips for developing a concise and clear voice in written and verbal communications. During the session, participants will receive suggestions for making their presentations, e-mails, and spoken and written communications more compelling. Throughout, examples drawn from the presenter’s varied military experience will be shared.
February 23, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

Engineering Ethics: A Conversation About Conflicts of Interest Issues
Join NSPE Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel Arthur Schwartz and a panel of engineering ethics experts for a discussion covering payments of engineers' travel expenses by vendors, serving as a manufacturing expert, design and construction of a house in a flood area, and reviewing work of another engineer and thereafter performing engineering services for that client. Polling questions and a Q&A will allow opportunities for audience interaction. 1 PDH
March 14, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

Engineering Ethics: A Conversation About Expert Witness and Engineering Review Issues
Join NSPE Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel Arthur Schwartz and a panel of engineering ethics experts for a discussion on the obligation to reimburse a payment advance, limiting the scope of an engineering review, working for a law firm client involved in litigation with a former law firm client, and a forensic study dependent upon work of engineer in dispute with a client. Polling questions and a Q&A will allow opportunities for audience interaction. 1 PDH
April 18, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

Engineering Ethics: A Conversation About Business, Employment, and Licensure Issues

Join NSPE Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel Arthur Schwartz and a panel of engineering ethics experts for a discussion on the signing and sealing of a subcontractor’s calculations, a Canadian firm’s noncompliance with engineering licensure laws, obtaining professional references, and an employee’s awareness of his employer’s financial improprieties. Polling questions and a Q&A will allow opportunities for audience interaction. 1 PDH
May 16, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

Visit the NSPE Web site to register today.

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NSPE New Member Benefit

NSPE is partnering with Professional Résumé Services Inc. to offer the opportunity to receive a detailed résumé critique or a professionally written résumé to compete effectively in today's challenging market. NSPE/Professional Résumé Services Inc. also offers services related to the development of documents pertinent to your individual search campaign including cover letters, follow-up letters, references, and a salary history document.


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PEPP 2010-11
Executive Board

Andrea Martinez-Graves
Tampa, FL

Dawn Edgell
Chair Elect
Aurora, IL

Mark Davy
Past Chair
La Crosse, WI

Eric West
Midland, TX

Aaron Thrush
Maumee, OH

Charlotte Anne Maddox
Vice Chair
Tampa, FL

Chris Richard
Vice Chair
Lafayette, LA

Karen Stelling
Vice Chair
Kansas City, MO



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