Four Public Policy Victories for Engineers


August/September 2012

Four Public Policy Victories for Engineers


NSPE's Government Relations department is constantly working to protect and promote the engineering profession in Washington. Every month, you read about legislation and regulations NSPE is fighting for or against, but because the public policy process is designed to be slow, these battles are usually ongoing. Often, success is determined by building new relationships, making small maneuvers that set the stage for future policy success, or forestalling negative policy outcomes. This year, however, NSPE has helped secure four major public policy victories for the engineering profession. Break out the party hats and read on:





  1. We have a multiyear transportation funding law for the first time since 2005.
    After months of partisan battles, Congress finally passed a surface transportation reauthorization law at the end of June. The two-year Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act maintains transportation spending at current levels and contains reforms to streamline environmental reviews for highway projects. NSPE supported passage of multiyear transportation legislation and commented on the convoluted environmental review process at a Department of Transportation meeting last March.

    Why it matters to you: Enacting multiyear transportation legislation is critical because it provides the funding certainty states need to plan long-range projects. These major projects are vital to bringing our nation's infrastructure into a state of good repair. Reforming the environmental review process will accelerate project delivery and save federal resources.

  2. The Federal Highway Administration is now fully compliant with the Brooks Act.
    The Brooks Act of 1972 requires federal agencies to use qualifications-based selection to procure all architectural and engineering services associated with real property. The FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration, however, have been using QBS to procure only construction-related A/E services. NSPE commented on the issue during last March's DOT meeting. The newly minted transportation reauthorization provides a legislative solution to the FHWA portion of this problem by broadening the scope of A/E services related to construction.

    Why it matters to you: By including additional A/E services in the definition of "construction," the law ensures that the most qualified firms are chosen to provide A/E services for federally funded state and local highway contracts.

  3. The small business size standard increased.
    The Small Business Administration issued a new rule in February increasing the size standard for engineering services from $4.5 million to $14 million in average annual receipts over three years. Size standards determine which private-sector businesses are eligible to participate in federal programs for small businesses, including contracting set-asides.

    Why it matters to you: Increasing the engineering services size standard enables greater numbers of qualified firms to enter the federal marketplace, which strongly favors large firms. The new size standard may also increase the amount of federal work available to small businesses: With larger numbers of small firms competing, agencies are increasingly likely to find a qualified service provider. The more small firms can meet agencies' needs, the more agencies will pursue their small business contracting goals.

  4. Congress repealed an onerous tax on federal contractors before it took effect.
    Last November, NSPE helped overturn the 3% withholding tax, a mandate that would have required the government to withhold 3% of fees up front when contracting with private-sector businesses. The withholding would have provided an interest-free loan to the government while forcing firms to attempt to recoup their expenses at the end of the year. Had it not been repealed, the tax would have taken effect on January 1, 2013.

    Why it matters to you: Because small businesses (including 90% of engineering firms) often have less than a 3% profit margin on government contracts, the resulting cash flow problems could have cost firms the vital funds they needed to conduct day-to-day business, including paying subcontractors. Some firms may even have been forced to seek outside financing to complete their contracts.

Read more about what NSPE is doing for you in Washington by visiting
Policy Priorities

The NSPE Legislative and Government Affairs Committee met during the NSPE Annual Meeting to determine NSPE's primary public policy agenda for 2012?13:

  • Protecting and promoting qualifications-based selection;
  • Enhancing science, technology, mathematics, and engineering education
  • Ensuring Good Samaritan protection for professional engineers volunteering in an emergency
  • Enacting comprehensive energy policy;
  • Improving our nation's infrastructure; and
  • Encouraging licensure of federally employed engineers.