NSPE TODAY: POLICY PERSPECTIVES
On Capitol Hill, NSPE Advocates for Professional Engineering Community
BY ARIELLE EISER
On March 6, 2014, NSPE members and staff participated in the Society of Women Engineers 2014 Capitol Hill Day to discuss STEM education, investment in national infrastructure, qualifications-based selection, and other issues of importance to professional engineers. NSPE Treasurer Julia Harrod, P.E., F.NSPE, and NSPE Legislative and Government Affairs Committee STEM Task Force Chair Karen Moran, P.E., F.NSPE, led the delegation and held meetings with several champions of engineering. Visits with Representatives Donna Edwards (D-MD), Michael McCaul (R-TX), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Paul Tonko (D-NY), and NSPE member David McKinley, P.E. (R-WV), were extremely productive. There is growing interest and commitment to NSPE’s issues and these visits served to bring these matters to the forefront.
The theme of this year’s SWE Capitol Hill Day was “Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation in STEM.” NSPE, which cosponsored the event, emphasized that leveraging the US’s diverse population is our country’s unique advantage in a global competition. Many members of Congress and their staff are not aware that women and other underrepresented groups currently comprise only a small portion of the STEM workforce.
NSPE also took this opportunity to advocate for S. 1178/H.R. 2426, the Educating Tomorrow’s Engineers Act (ETEA). This legislation, introduced in June 2013, would integrate engineering education into the K–12 curriculum, provide instructors with tools and support to effectively teach engineering education, and promote research in engineering education. Several offices, representing both political parties, expressed interest in possibly joining the already bipartisan list of cosponsors for this bill. In fact, one of NSPE’s meetings was with the bill’s primary House sponsor, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY). Tonko’s office expressed great appreciation for NSPE’s legislative efforts on behalf of H.R. 2426.
In all of NSPE’s meetings on Capitol Hill, members of Congress expressed strong support for STEM education and, in particular, the need to place a greater focus on engineering. In fact, on the evening prior to the Capitol Hill visits, SWE hosted and NSPE participated in a congressional reception that addressed this very issue. Representatives Richard Hanna (R-NY), Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI), Aaron Schock (R-IL), and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) all spoke about the critical role engineers play as innovators and job creators and underscored the need to bolster the pipeline for future generations of engineers.
In addition to STEM education, NSPE also spoke with each office about the urgent need to improve our nation’s infrastructure. NSPE members explained that infrastructure is an issue of immense importance to the professional engineering community, particularly as PEs play a key role in planning, designing, implementing, constructing, operating, and maintaining infrastructure systems. NSPE advocated for immediate passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development (WRRDA) Act of 2013, which has been stuck in conference committee since November despite passing the House and Senate with overwhelming majorities. WRRDA is the legislative authorization for the US Army Corps of Engineers. NSPE also urged members of Congress to take immediate action on a long-term surface transportation bill. The current authorization expires at the end of September and the Highway Trust Fund, which is one of the key elements of this legislation, is projected to become insolvent as early as August. These requests were very well received, especially as several of the congressional visits were with members of Congress who sit on the authorizing committee, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The NSPE delegation also took this opportunity to reeducate members about the Brooks Act, which requires federal agencies to use QBS procedures when procuring professional engineering services. Members and their staff were very interested to learn that QBS actually saves money and NSPE staff provided each office with a primer about the procurement method. All offices expressed a shared interest in ensuring that federal agencies comply with current QBS statutes when procuring engineering services.
NSPE’s cosponsorship and participation in the SWE Capitol Hill Day was not only a great success, but also an example of the value and effectiveness of communicating NSPE’s public policy interests to your elected officials. Whether PEs will benefit from the enactment of legislation and regulations or the prevention of such measures, concerted public policy advocacy actions can only be taken if PEs are an engaged and proactive part of the policymaking process. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”
Arielle Eiser is NSPE’s government relations manager.