News for the NSPE Community November 2011

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NSPE Working for You: Withholding Tax Repealed

After a five-year battle, NSPE can declare victory over an onerous tax-withholding mandate that would have placed significant financial and administrative burdens on engineering firms that contract with the government. On November 16, the House approved H.R. 674, which would repeal Section 511 of the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (PL 109-222), and President Obama signed the bill on November 21.

H.R. 674 would repeal Section 511 of the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (PL 109-222), which requires federal, state, and certain local governments to withhold as tax 3% of all payments made to government contractors. The withholding mandate was intended to prevent tax cheating by government contractors but would have punished honest, tax-paying citizens as well as those delinquent in their taxes. If not repealed, the mandate would have taken effect on January 1, 2013.

The requirement would have been especially hard on engineering firms, whose profit margin on government contracts is often less than 3%. Firms would eventually have been able to recoup their expenses, but not until the end of the tax year, causing cash flow problems and costing professional engineers the vital funds they need to conduct business.

Since the tax law’s passage in 2006, NSPE has been working with the Government Withholding Relief Coalition and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to repeal the withholding mandate. The GWRC and NSPE sent five letters to Congress over the month alone urging H.R. 674's passage. 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. Your grassroots efforts helped build a critical mass of opinion that ensured the bill passed the Senate, ultimately enabling its success.

This legislative victory demonstrates that together, professional engineers can make a difference.

Read NSPE President Chris Stone's thoughts on the Society's role in advocacy on behalf of professional engineers. [ return to top ]

 

D.C. Society Opposes Washington Monument Proposal

The District of Columbia Society of Professional Engineers is opposing a National Park Service proposal to construct an underground visitor screening facility to the Washington Monument. During a public hearing on September 20, DCSPE Past President Robert Hershey, P.E., F.NSPE, said the project would undermine the structure’s foundation and pose a threat to public safety.

Hershey told Park Service officials that the temporary pavilion currently used for security screenings outside of the monument is adequate. "Not only would the project cost millions of taxpayers' dollars, but it would undermine the monument and possibly destabilize it, as was demonstrated by the recent earthquake," he says.

The monument is temporarily closed for repairs of damage sustained from a 5.8-magnitude earthquake on August 23. Hershey also said there is no need to construct additional security enhancements to protect the monument because it has 15-foot thick walls and no visitor could carry enough explosives to put the structure at risk. In addition, barriers erected along the grounds provide adequate protection from a potential truck bomb attack. The proposed underground facility would subject visitors to additional dangers because the confined space could magnify the pressure from an explosion, he says.

Hershey says that the costs associated with refurbishing temporary structures for screenings would be a better use of taxpayers' funds since similar structures on the National Mall have been viable for more than 50 years. The National Parks Conservation Association and the National Coalition to Save Our Mall also
oppose the project.

A geoarcheological report performed to determine the condition of the landscape says, "the integrity of the landscape could be highly variable over short distances because of the physical history of the grounds" and there needs to be more consideration of the possible effects of the project on archeological resources.

The Park Service has extended public comment until November 30, as officials evaluate project design alternatives as well as the possibility of taking no action on any of the proposals to improve security and visitor screenings at the monument. The contents of geotechnical and geoarcheological reports posted on the National Park Service Web site further reinforces DCSPE's call to cancel the project, says Hershey. [ return to top ]

 

Rep. David McKinley, P.E., to Keynote Awards Program

Federal engineers from across the nation will be recognized for their innovation and service during the 2012 Federal Engineer of the Year Award Luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on February 23.

Congressman David McKinley, P.E., (R-WV) will give the keynote address during the event. Before his election to Congress, McKinley was president of McKinley and Associates, an A/E firm with offices in Wheeling and Charleston, West Virginia, and Washington, Pennsylvania. He has been an NSPE member since 1972 and has served on the board of directors for the West Virginia Society of Professional Engineers. He has also been active with civic, charitable, and nonprofit organizations in the state.

The Federal Engineer of the Year Award, sponsored by Professional Engineers in Government, honors engineers employed by a federal agency that employs at least 50 engineers worldwide. Candidates are nominated by their federal agency. The award winner is selected by a panel of judges established by PEG who consider engineering achievements, education, continuing education, professional/technical society activities, NSPE membership, awards and honors, and civic and humanitarian activities.

To learn more about the FEYA event and the past award winners, please visit www.nspe.org/FEYA. [ return to top ]

 

Do K12 Students Really Need to Learn Engineering?

Why is it important to integrate engineering into the K–12 educational experience? NSPE Fellow and blogger John Hall, P.E., has eight good reasons, which he shares in a recent posting:

Our students are technologically illiterate: They know how to use technology, but they have no idea how it works. Our science curriculum focuses almost exclusively on the natural world, not the human-made world. Our schools are not equipping students for 21st century jobs. Basic technological literacy should be the function of our schools. In a world where auto mechanics and cable installers must be computer technicians, who will keep our technological systems in operation?

Engineering develops creative thinking skills: Simply understanding existing technology may be sufficient for service technicians, but if America is to keep its place as a world leader in innovation, schools need to teach, apply, and encourage creative thinking.

Engineering applies math and science concepts: Some like to say engineering is the application of math and science. (I like to say engineering is the application of everything I learned in school, but that’s another subject.) By applying math and science lessons to real-world problems, students will better retain the concepts.

Read the rest of John's reasons and share your comments. [ return to top ]

 

NCEES Seeks Volunteers for FE Exam Review

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying needs professional engineers to participate in a content review survey for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.

NCEES seeks a cross section of professionals from all engineering disciplines to complete the online survey about the fundamental knowledge and skills necessary for an engineer intern to work in a manner that safeguards the health, safety, and welfare of the public. The survey results will be used to update the test specifications for the exam.

Tim Miller, P.E., the director of exam services, says the study will assist NCEES with ensuring that the licensure exam remains relevant to current professional practice. "The value of this content review depends on the number of people who participate, so NCEES is eager to get input from as many engineering professionals as possible," he says.

The survey can be completed in 30–45 minutes. Responses must be received no later than December 5, 2011. [ return to top ]

 

Legal Beat Q&A: Prosecuting Misuse of Engineer Title

Question: Most states have some language in their PE laws to the effect of "anyone identifying themselves as an engineer must be a licensed engineer in that state." In this connection I have observed that some equipment manufacturers hire engineering graduates to act as market representatives for their products. After some product training, those sales reps are sent out to call on their customers across many states. It is often thought that a technical sales person can better communicate the technical advantages of their product as compared to a person with a nontechnical degree. Many of these individuals are given business cards with titles such as "senior sales engineer" or "senior account engineer." Is this a violation of state engineering laws? (Pennsylvania)

Answer: State laws (and enforcement practices) vary from state to state. At the same time, while state boards sometimes seek to prosecute unlicensed individuals for the misuse of the term "engineer," as a general matter, most U.S. courts take the position that such individuals will be in violation only if it can be demonstrated that a reasonable person would conclude that the individual is performing or holding him/herself as offering professional engineering services to the public.

So, for example, a housekeeper who uses the term “domestic engineer” could not be successfully prosecuted since a reasonable person would not conclude that the individual is offering or performing professional engineering services.

It would appear that the use by an industrial employer of an engineering title such as "sales engineer" or a similar title would not result in prosecution by the state licensing board. NSPE generally encourages companies to use the term "engineering" (e.g., engineering sales associate, engineering account associate) instead of "engineer" when describing unlicensed personnel in order to avoid public confusion.

Responses are based on questions posed to NSPE Legal Counsel Arthur Schwartz. These questions and answers do not, in any way, constitute legal advice. Always consult your own attorney before reaching any conclusions or acting upon any information presented in this forum. Also note that legal precedents change. An answer based on a case from several years ago may have a new perspective today.

Are you an NSPE member with a legal question for this column? Send it to Arthur Schwartz, 1420 King St., Alexandria, VA 22314-2794; fax 703-836-4875; or e-mail
aschwartz@nspe.org. [ return to top ]

 

15 Free PDHs for NSPE Members

Time is running out for NSPE members to access 2011's free PDHs.
Members can take the following 15 on-demand Web seminars until December 31:

  • Communicating Technical Ideas Persuasively
  • Comparing Contract Documents: EJCDC, ConsensusDOCs, and AIA
  • Engineering Leadership: What, Why, How
  • Ethical Engineering: Concepts and Challenges
  • Ethics Forum: Access to Client Information and Public Safety
  • Engineering Ethics & Fair Trade: Employment Practices
  • Engineering Ethics & Fair Trade: Ethics of Agreements
  • Engineer's Duty to Report
  • How to Start Your Own Firm
  • Negotiating for Success
  • The New Ethics and Compliance Rules for Contractors
  • The Qualifications-Based Selection Process Under Attack
  • Solving the Risks in Green Design
  • Winning QBS Strategies for Powerful Project Interviews, Q&A Sessions, and Owner Debriefing

Go to www.nspe.org/15ForFree to sign up today! [ return to top ]

 

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