NSPE TODAY: POLICY PERSPECTIVES
NSPE Seeks Support from Congress
BY SARAH OGDEN
On April 30, NSPE members and staff took professional engineers' issues to the halls of Congress during PE Day on the Hill 2008. The participants met with 24 members of Congress and congressional staff from 14 states. Attendees included NSPE President-Elect Brad Aldrich; members of the House of Delegates; leaders from the District of Columbia, Mississippi, New York, Tennessee, and Texas; and members of the Legislative & Government Affairs Committee and the Political Action Committee Board of Trustees.
Discussion centered around three key issues:
Infrastructure. NSPE believes that a strong commitment to a cost-effective, well-planned infrastructure system is vital to our national interests. Proper maintenance and inspection of our nation's infrastructure protects the public safety, environmental health, and economic prosperity of the U.S. We must halt the deterioration of our essential public facilities and make critical decisions that guarantee the long-term safety and reliability of America's roads, airports, bridges, dams, water and sewage systems, waterways, schools, and energy and communication utilities.
NSPE strongly supports legislation such as the National Infrastructure Improvement Act (H.R. 3538) that would revive our nation's aging infrastructure to ensure that it meets current and future demand, facilitates economic growth, and is maintained in a manner that ensures public safety. Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) spoke fiercely about America's need for more substantial investment in infrastructure, citing the fact that except for transportation, no infrastructure funding has been reauthorized in the past eight years. Moran further encouraged the engineering industry to speak up on the need for reinvestment. Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI) also supported infrastructure investment, calling it a means to stimulate the economy.
Engineering Education. NSPE believes that in order to remain competitive in the global science and technology market, the U.S. government must create incentives to increase the number of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, enhance the quality of their education, and encourage more students to pursue careers in STEM fields.
The Strategic Technology/Engineering Program (STEP) Act (H.R. 3634) would boost our nation's competitiveness in the global science and technology market and address the expected shortage of engineers by providing incentives for engineers and students to study and seek employment in STEM fields, including a loan forgiveness program for qualifying PEs and a tuition assistance program for qualifying students pursuing degrees in STEM fields. NSPE supports this and other measures that would encourage students to study in STEM fields, enter the engineering workforce, and become licensed PEs.
Several members of Congress agreed to cosponsor the STEP Act, including Reps. Kildee and Moran. Kildee, who expressed strong support for the work of engineers and PEs in particular, stating that quality STEM education should begin in elementary school and continue through college.
Good Samaritan Protection for Engineers. In order to protect public health and safety and expedite recovery after a disaster, our nation must have an adequate and easily mobilized supply of emergency-responder engineers. Unfortunately, many engineers have been deterred by liability issues. In February 2008, the New York Daily News reported that hundreds of engineers said they would be reluctant to respond to another national emergency because more than 20 structural engineering firms are being sued by sick workers who claim engineers did not do enough to keep them safe at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11.
NSPE supports legislation such as the Good Samaritan Protection for Construction, Architectural, and Engineering Volunteers Act (H.R. 2067), which would provide construction, architectural, and engineering entities with qualified immunity from liability for negligence when providing services or equipment on a volunteer basis in response to a declared emergency or disaster.
Though most members of Congress were unfamiliar with the Good Samaritan bill, they were largely supportive of the idea of liability protection for engineer volunteers.
Throughout the meetings, the PEs emphasized that, as licensed professionals, they are uniquely qualified to address engineering issues and are eager to help. Several members of Congress expressed interest in building relationships with PE constituents.
The general response to NSPE's issues was overwhelming support, in large part because the people delivering the message were not only PEs, but also constituents. Surveys of congressional offices consistently show that an in-person visit by a constituent is by far the most effective means of communicating with a legislator.
Although this year's PE Day on the Hill has passed, it's not too late to get involved. Visit NSPE's online Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/nspe to identify and communicate with your elected representatives, subscribe to Action Alerts about current issues affecting the engineering profession, and see how your legislator voted on key bills. You can also become involved in the political process—and influence the course of public policy—by meeting with your members of Congress, voting, running for office, volunteering for a political campaign, or contributing to a political action committee or candidate.