ON ETHICS: YOU BE THE JUDGE
A professional engineer's review of a contractor's construction work raises questions about conflict of interest.
Cole Laborator, P.E., performs design services on a design-build joint venture project with contractor QRS for private client Loyal. Later, Loyal retains Laborator on another unrelated design-bid-build project to review the submissions and construction work performed by QRS.
What Do You Think?
Would it be ethical for Laborator to review the submissions and construction work performed by QRS after having participated in a joint venture with QRS for the same client?
What the Board Said
It would appear that the facts presented in this matter suggest the possibility of a conflict of interest. Engineers are frequently faced with situations that could raise a conflict of interest or, at least, the appearance of a conflict of interest. Two critical issues that are implicit in a conflict-of-interest situation are the effect that the conflict has or could have on 1) the engineer's professional or business judgment and 2) an employer's client's interests.
Conflict of interest is among the most widely examined topics addressed by the NSPE Board of Ethical Review. Assuming there is full disclosure by Laborator (which is a reasonable assumption under the facts), the Board cannot see why it would be unethical for Laborator to review the submissions and construction work performed by QRS after having participated in a joint venture with QRS for the same client. While it may not necessarily be the preferred manner for Loyal to proceed, as the client and the recipient of engineering and construction services, that is a decision for the client to make. While Laborator may wish to advise Loyal that there may be a better procedure to follow in order to ensure proper "checks and balances," the Board cannot say that, as a matter of ethics, the facts present an unacceptable situation.
It would be ethical for Laborator to review the submissions and construction work performed by QRS after having participated in a joint venture with QRS for the same client.
NSPE Code References
Section II.4.: Engineers shall act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.
Section II.4.a.: Engineers shall disclose all known or potential conflicts of interest that could influence or appear to influence their judgment or the quality of their services.
This scenario was based on NSPE Board of Ethical Review Case 05-10. Free single copies are available from NSPE Member Services at 888-285-6773.
NSPE's Board of Ethical Review considers ethical cases involving either real or hypothetical matters. The facts contained in each case do not necessarily represent all the pertinent facts submitted to or reviewed by the BER. This opinion is intended as guidance only. It may be reprinted without further permission, provided that this statement is included and that attribution is provided to the NSPE's Board of Ethical Review.