PE asked experts what they'd tell the U.S. leader about key engineering issues.
BY EVA KAPLAN-LEISERSON
In 2009, as the newly elected President Obama entered office, PE asked a number of experts for the advice they would give him on critical engineering-related issues facing the country.
Recently, as the nation considered who would occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next four years, PE checked back with some of those experts—as well as some new ones—to find out what advice they would give to the president.
John Doehring is founder and president of J. Doehring & Co., a management consulting, education, and information resources provider serving firms in the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting fields.
First off, I'd advise the president and Congress to focus specifically on those issues that support our country's economic growth—budgets, debt management, program reform, tax policy.
I'd advise the president to push hard on infrastructure. In this area we have a critical overlap of market need, benefit to society, and job creation. Not more road paving or "shovel ready" projects, but the larger scale, long-lasting infrastructure building that can provide the country with new competitive advantage—just like the nation's highway system did in the 1950s, and the railroad system did before that.
A third [priority] is education. Our engineering profession can't maintain its position of preeminence without continued and significant investment in education, without attracting the top kids. And not just sheer numbers are needed, but also diversity of new engineers to reflect the transformation of global society.
Today we desperately need a president who can and will lead—who can unite Americans around the important objectives in education, infrastructure, and governance.
Hushedar Mehta is executive director of global operations for EASi, a subsidiary of recruiting and staffing company Aerotek and a provider of engineering support solutions.
The engineering job market [needs] educated and qualified professionals; specifically, the utilities sector is experiencing an acute need for talent.
The talent pool is college educated, but lacks hands-on industry experience. It is important to offer continuous education programs to close this gap. We need to increase students' interest in STEM to strengthen the engineer pipeline. There is currently a greater demand than supply for experienced engineering graduates. Offering tax credits or incentives for companies who invest in the retraining and further development of engineers will help this issue.
To promote careers in engineering at an early age, we need to strengthen the math and science curriculum and offer more scholarships and financial aid to students.
Vivek Wadhwa's various roles include director of research in the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering and columnist for Bloomberg Businessweek.
We live in an era of exponentially advancing technologies. Fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, computing, synthetic biology, 3D printing, medicine, and nanomaterials are advancing rapidly and allowing small teams to do what was once only possible by governments and large corporations. These advances will cause disruptions to industries as well as [generate] opportunities to create new jobs, solve the world's grand challenges, and [drive] economic growth.
The big challenge is to gear our workforce up to adapt to these changes and to leverage the opportunities. Invest in workforce training, teach experienced workers how to become entrepreneurs, and provide the funding to seed tens of thousands of new startups. This is a better investment than bailing out the behemoths and shoring up financial institutions.
Focus on America's greatest strength: its people. They are going to reinvent our competitiveness.
Representative David McKinley, P.E., (R-WV) is one of two licensed engineers in the U.S. Congress and serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He is an NSPE member.
We have no national energy policy, and I think it's working against us. This is a time to be working together to get [one] developed and adopted so that it's not changing every four years.
It would have nuclear, wind, solar, [and so on]. [We must decide], are we going to continue to subsidize an industry and for how long. We have to come to grips that we have a $16 trillion deficit. That's a real number, real dollars we have to pay back.
This war on coal has been very devastating and time consuming. The Environmental Protection Agency and others have found this is the most economical way to create energy in America. It has been until the last year or two years; it was more affordable than using gas. I want to make sure that coal has a seat at the table.
I would love to see a hydroelectric facility on virtually every dam in America. Another [piece of advice] would be build the Keystone Pipeline—put 20,000 men back to work. Bring a million barrels of crude oil from Canada every day.
We could be energy independent. We just have to have a plan and stick with it.
Albert Thumann, P.E., is executive director of the Association of Energy Engineers and an NSPE member.
Energy policy must promote sustainability and incorporate both supply- and demand-side options.
[Natural gas exploration] offers the greatest potential in providing energy that is both low-cost and environmentally friendly. Over three decades of research has helped to pioneer the technique known as "fracking." The U.S. [could be] the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.
Clean energy must be used to minimize the impact of climate change. Wind, solar, biomass, and alternative energy need to be part of a comprehensive energy program.
On the demand side, energy management technologies like efficient lighting, HVAC systems, and energy efficiency retrofits are cost-effective and reduce our carbon footprint.
[To address] rising fuel prices, the president should turn to more stable North American sources of oil. Continuing oil imports from Canada and approving the Keystone Pipeline should help towards achieving this goal.
The president must continue R&D in natural gas from shale and shift tax breaks from oil companies to this promising industry. In addition, legislation to promote natural gas buses and truck fleets and to build natural gas filling stations will reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Passage of a comprehensive National Energy Plan that promotes clean energy, natural gas, and both supply- and demand-side options is required.
Energy independence can be the Apollo Program of your legacy. Be bold and creative to inspire Americans to a sustainable future.
Andrew Herrmann, P.E., is president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, principal of infrastructure engineering firm Hardesty & Hanover, and an NSPE member.
The most important issue will be the economy—and we know that our economy cannot thrive without the adequate infrastructure to support it. Infrastructure should be a high priority for political candidates because it is essential to our continued economic recovery, a proven job creator, and fundamental to our way of life.
We must start to look at long-term solutions for funding and financing our nation's infrastructure, not just stopgap measures. Potential solutions range from creating a National Infrastructure Bank, incentivizing public-private partnerships, moving toward a vehicle miles travelled system, or simplest of all, raising the gas tax.
Continue to expedite projects wherever possible and streamline the approval process, work on a national vision for infrastructure that looks at the system as a whole, and encourage Congress to find ways to create a long-term, reliable revenue source for federal surface transportation funding. The latest bill only lasts a little more than two years. State transportation programs need a more long-term bill in order to provide certainty for our transportation programs over the next decade.
Living the triple bottom line—always considering the environment, the economy and society—should be a worldwide goal.
Barry LePatner is a construction lawyer and author of the book Too Big To Fall: America's Failing Infrastructure and the Way Forward.
The problem we're facing post-election is whether there's going to be any agreement to see the long-term solutions of our infrastructure before tragedy strikes. We can't think short-term. It's about saving our nation in terms of national security [and] the global marketplace we compete in, and the importance of moving commerce and the supply chain across the nation.
We have 8,000 bridges in our nation that could fall at a moment's notice because they're structurally deficient and fracture-critical. Those two elements really represent a danger to the public who goes across those bridges.
Put the money in. Remember that anytime we invested in our nation's infrastructure, whether it was the Erie Canal, Transcontinental Railroad, Hoover Dam, levies, or the interstate highway system, our economy has grown, our jobs have increased, and we've created demand that cannot come from anywhere else. And it's easy to create all that by investments in our infrastructure.
There's 17% unemployment today in the construction industry. We can put one million construction workers back to work for two full years merely by addressing the top 2,000 [deficient] bridges. That effort would restore growth in many areas, cut unemployment tremendously, and return a great deal of money into the community.
[Also] develop a new federal cabinet position, Secretary of Infrastructure. Appoint someone of huge reputation and respect who understands infrastructure problems and helps make a congressional policy with support from the president and administration.
R&D and Competitiveness
Robert Atkinson is the founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based technology policy think tank.
As we articulate in our book Innovation Economics: the Race for Global Advantage, there are three [key steps]:
- Develop a more competitive corporate tax code, including lowering the rate and instituting an innovation and investment tax credit for companies investing in R&D workforce training and new machinery and software;
- Expand support for science and technology, but with a special focus on engineering and technology commercialization (e.g., Obama's national network of manufacturing institutes); and
- Step up the fight against foreign "innovation mercantilism" (an orientation by nations to grow their economies by more exports and fewer imports of innovation-based goods and services, based largely on unfair and discriminatory policies).
[Also] strongly articulate that the United States is in serious competition for global innovation advantage and that we are losing, and that only with a robust national innovation and competitiveness strategy will we be able to win.
Replace the advisors on your economic team whose background is in finance and neoclassical economics (the school of economics based on the notion that markets get it right almost all the time), and replace them with people with a background in business engineering. Articulate that innovation is not "manna from heaven," happening through market forces without government [intervention]. Increase funding for applied research and engineering but tie increased funding to labs and universities to results in commercializing technology.
In an era of budget crises and massive national debt, the next president needs to make a strong case for public investment—including in science and technology and R&D tax incentives—which shouldn't be on the table when budget cutting is considered.
Charles Holliday, P.E., is chairman of the board of Bank of America, past chair of the Council on Competitiveness, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).
There's a study that the NAE is just starting [on how to] restore manufacturing. They've come up with a very novel approach. They said it's not a question of manufacturing alone; it's manufacturing, design, and innovation. The thought is that if in this country we are designing products, creating innovations that make those products more unique, and making products, that is the new model going forward. So what can we do to capture all three aspects for U.S. employment and not just one?
Look at the tax incentives that we have and see where they need to be modified that encourages that. If you're giving a R&D tax credit, how does it encourage having all three of those jobs here, not just the innovation job. Secondarily, it would look at ways to use our research universities more effectively to accomplish the objectives.
Also there could be tax policies to help that. Companies committed to fund university research [for 10 years] might get more favorable tax treatment than if they only committed to two years. Then universities can gear up the right people to do the work.
[We also need] a very objective review of how competitive we are today versus other countries. A lot of studies [ask] how competitive is the U.S. versus China. But the granular analysis behind that is not very good. Get down more to the reasons why we're more competitive in some things, why we aren't in other things.
C. D. (Dan) Mote Jr. is past president and regents professor of the University of Maryland, College Park and served on the National Academies committees that produced Rising Above the Gathering Storm and Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited. He has been nominated as the next NAE president.
Everybody has agreed from industry through government, basic research has its home funding in the federal government, through the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. I believe both political parties believe this too. It's critical with the competition around the world for creating technologies and the future that basic research is a fundamental need.
The research infrastructure in the country at universities and other parts of the government sector is quite lagging compared to what is happening in other countries. Research infrastructure can't be postponed. It's not funded very well by universities; they don't have the resources. States don't have [resources]. Industry doesn't support universities. There really doesn't seem to be [another] source of support for research infrastructure than federal support.
It's critical to do it. It's connected to talent and the basic research enterprise. There are opportunities for talented people everywhere. The U.S. is no longer the beneficiary of the fact that all the opportunity is here and talented people all around the world came here. We have to generate our own talent but also have access to talented people around the world. The future is going to be determined by talent. We have to see this as the country's most important asset.
I'd like to push the partnership between government, industry, and universities hard. It's key in many sectors: innovation, research, commercialization of ideas. Principal examples [include] the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, and the Innovation Corps program at NSF. I'm hoping we continue in these directions.
[The most critical piece of advice I'd offer would be] the funding of scholarships and support for young people, graduate and undergraduate students inspired to go into the sciences and engineering. If we don't capture those people and hold them, we could lose a generation. As a consequence, we have to support research programs, otherwise [students] don't have anything to do.