Working Here, Working There
BY DANIELLE BOYKIN
hen the first US engineering licensure laws were established in the early 1900s, very few professionals practiced outside of their local towns and cities, let alone their states. Advancements in commerce, technology, and transportation, however, have changed all that. Today, it is common for a professional engineer to work in and be licensed in multiple states. But navigating the regulatory process is not always simple.
As Patty Mamola, P.E., met with licensing boards around the country, preparing to serve as 2013–14 president of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, she realized that mobility is one of the greatest challenges facing the organization. “The world has become a smaller place,” she says. “Mobility is not just a national issue anymore. It’s also an international issue.”
NCEES Immediate Past President Gene Dinkins, P.E., who traveled with Mamola, saw the same problems. In response, he created the Mobility Task Force during his tenure to help carry out a vision of creating a gold standard for licensure to which all states could ultimately agree upon.
Uncertainty associated with comity licensure is also another major problem, says Jon Nelson, P.E., a past president of NCEES and emeritus member of the Oklahoma Board State Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. An engineer licensed in one state, he says, may not even qualify for licensure in another state due to varying requirements in education and other areas. “This often affects older licensees who were originally licensed under requirements long since dropped, but it also affects individuals who followed non-model law engineer pathways,” says Nelson, a senior vice president at Tetra Tech in Tulsa.
Mamola has continued the work of the task force and paired it with the Member Board Administrators Committee, which consists of executive directors of the licensing boards, to address mobility. “These [administrators] have a history and longevity needed in order to deal with this issue,” says the Nevada State Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors board member. “We needed a reality check on mobility challenges and to see what kind of progress we can make.”
The combined effort involved surveying all members of the state boards, and there was a consensus that there is no interest in an enhanced version of the ‘model law engineer,’ says Mamola. “The model law engineer is the gold standard,” she says.
The Member Board Administrators Committee and the Mobility Task Force developed proposed changes to the Model Law and Model Rules that Mamola believes will not be controversial during this year’s NCEES annual meeting. Specifically, the committee intends to present a motion to amend Model Law language (130.10.C1) that addresses licensure as a professional engineer by comity. The amendment aims to not hamper mobility yet continue to keep public protection at the forefront. The committee also recommends changing the Model Rules to define a minimum set of criteria for determining minimum competency for comity licensure applicants. The committee recommends that boards should consider the following factors:
Licensed in another jurisdiction for a set number of years without disciplinary actions; and/or
If requirements for licensure that were in effect at the time of original license would have been met; and/or
If the licensee can show proof of obtaining the required number of PDHs; and/or
Lack of criminal action.
It really boils down to one key question, says Mamola: “Why am I holding my applicants for reciprocity licensure to a higher standard than I hold those individuals for initial licensure?” She adds, “The guideline is to help determine if that person is minimally competent. That should be the standard.”
NSPE endorses enactment of uniform licensure laws in all jurisdictions. The Society endorses the NCEES Model Law definitions of the “practice of engineering” and encourages enactment of Model Law provisions. In addition, the Society supports the concept of licensure of engineers only as a “professional engineer” and opposes licensure status by designated branches or specialties.
NCEES Chief Executive Officer Jerry Carter says that people often forget that NCEES was created to affect the mobility of licensees. The first meeting of licensing boards in 1920 involved members of these boards determining how to recognize the credentials of professionals licensed in other jurisdictions. Many people now associate the organization only with the administration of licensing exams. “We continue to try to move into that direction, which isn’t easy to do with the 69 separate boards that make up NCEES,” he says. “We are constantly looking at the boards’ licensure processes and requirements and how common we can make these requirements and processes in a way that they first, serve the public and secondly, it’s not overly burdensome for individuals trying to get licensed.”
When Oklahoma established its licensing laws in 1935, mobility wasn’t a big issue because people were practicing more locally, says Kathy Hart, executive director of the Oklahoma State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. Since the practice and profession has changed, she says, if someone can’t get licensed because of a small issue on credentials then that’s a huge impediment to mobility.
In an article Hart wrote in the July issue of NCEES’s Licensure Exchange, she pointed out a prime example of how even a veteran professional engineer’s licensure mobility can be hindered. PEs find it hard to accept that they could have met their jurisdiction’s requirements at the time they were licensed and have practiced legally and successfully for 30 years, she wrote, yet, these same PEs can’t get licensed in a neighboring state because 30 years ago that state had slightly different licensing requirements.
Hart believes the language change proposed by the NCEES Member Board Administrators Committee and the Mobility Task Force will help to put the decision-making power back into the hands of the board. Her board has adopted similar measures. “Board members can use their professional judgment to determine if the candidate is minimally competent to practice in their state,” says Hart. “This does not create national licensure. It provides the boards flexibility for comity licensure and enhancing mobility.”
Hart adds, “We want the boards that are able to legislatively and politically to start working in this direction.”
State boards need to do what they can to resolve mobility issues, but the resolutions should not be at the expense of the ideals established by the NCEES, says Nelson. “The NCEES licensure ideal should always be based on a thorough understanding of the present and future needs of the public and the attributes of a profession. Both are important,” he says.
A New Challenge
As more states implement continuing education requirements for PEs, the mobility challenge for professional engineers increases. Craig Musselman, P.E., F.NSPE, a member of NSPE’s Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee, believes that this will be an emerging challenge for professional engineers. “A PE licensed in 20 or more states has to fill out different licensure renewal forms and submit them to each one of those states at different periods of time,” says Musselman, who writes for NSPE’s “PE Licensing” blog site (www.nspe.org/blogs). “Yet, many of them are complying with the same requirements.”
Musselman says there’s a movement to get NCEES committees to consider making the renewal process more efficient through changes in how they recognize continuing professional competency compliance. These discussions, he says, have involved consideration of a registry within the NCEES Record program that contains information on the accumulated number of required hours of continuing education.
Currently, a council record applicant must provide information on education, examination, licensure, experience, and references. The applicant must also meet Model Law Engineer requirements: an engineering bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, four years of acceptable work experience, passage of the FE and PE exams, and a clean disciplinary record.
NCEES has seen a significant increase in the number of active council record holders since its launch, says Carter. The number of active participants is currently at 34,000. The program is geared to provide expedited comity, he says, and sells itself. “If you are a consultant or work for a firm that requires you to be licensed in multiple states, a council record significantly enhances the process of getting licensed with another member board,” he says. “In some cases it can be a matter of a few days to receive comity licensure.”
Almost every state that requires continuing education has some variations in the number of hours required, the reporting cycle, or how many credits can be carried forward, says Carter. He acknowledges that this can be an administrative burden and possibly an impediment to mobility. “We have been working to try to come to a consensus about process,” he says. “It’s going to be charged that NCEES take a larger role in the process to create a registry that licensees can record their activities and state boards can examine it.”
Mamola agrees that for professionals with multiple licenses, it’s almost a full-time job keeping track of their continuing education requirements. “What we are trying to push with the boards is that if a licensee is good in their home state with continuing education requirements then they should be good in your state as well,” she says.
Mamola believes that it’s up to board members to take the lead on improving licensure mobility for licensed professionals. “We as members of NCEES need to figure it out or someone else is going to figure it out for us,” she says.
Have you experienced difficulty with license mobility? Do you have ideas for improving mobility? If so, e-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue.