Historic Election Presents New Opportunities, Challenges for Policymaking

January/February 2017

NSPE Today: Policy Perspectives
Historic Election Presents New Opportunities, Challenges for Policymaking


Campaign 2016 buttonEach election cycle brings a certain degree of change and uncertainty. After eight years under President Obama, a new president inevitably means major changes in Washington, DC, and beyond. The sweeping Republican victory in the November elections, both at the federal and state levels, promises both new opportunities and challenges for policymaking affecting the professional engineer. NSPE, through its multifaceted advocacy efforts addressing federal and state legislative and regulatory issues, will be proactively promoting the role of the licensed engineer in protecting the public health, safety, and welfare.

For nearly two years, the 2016 presidential election dominated Washington politics. Polls, pundits, and both parties anticipated the election of Democrat Hillary Clinton to the presidency with the Senate often expected to be led by Democrats by an extremely small margin. The House of Representatives was expected to remain firmly in Republican control but with the loss of a fair number of seats. The evening of November 8 stunned many, as Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States, with Republicans retaining control of the Senate and the House. At the state level, which has seen several recent election cycles favoring Republicans, the party made additional gains. 

This Republican sweep indicates a significant shift in public policymaking in the years ahead, beginning with 2017. The Obama administration is well known for its unprecedented use of regulations across industries. Agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, became the focal point of policymaking instead of Congress, which has been largely mired in partisan paralysis since the 2010 elections. Although prior Republican administrations have also exercised broad regulatory powers, we do anticipate changes within these agencies. It will take months and potentially years to see how these changes will play out. The beginning of a new administration requires substantial setup.

However, given Republican control of both the presidency and Congress, there may be greater opportunities to move legislation forward. It should be noted that, as Republicans are not close to the 60-seat filibuster requirement, the Senate may continue to block legislative movement. Republicans are already discussing the potential use of a process called reconciliation, which would require only a simple majority to approve legislation in the Senate. However, the use of reconciliation is limited, and the Senate is likely to be able to use it only infrequently.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of this new presidency and new Congress, legislative and regulatory opportunities and challenges will present themselves. NSPE has significantly enhanced its regulatory advocacy efforts, working frequently to ensure that rulemakings promote the professional engineer and the key role of the PE in protecting the public health, safety, and welfare. In the last year alone, the Society has participated in rulemakings with the EPA, the Department of Transportation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of the Interior, and has been successful in securing language in final rules strengthening the PE’s role in engineering projects across the federal government.

NSPE will be proactively working on new opportunities with this new administration to further build upon this progress. NSPE has also worked on both sides of the aisle on legislation to strengthen the PE’s role in response to the Gold King Mine disaster and to emphasize the role of licensure in engineering education. In the 115th Congress, NSPE will be working to further educate members of Congress on the key role that PEs play in issues ranging from infrastructure and energy development and deployment to education and autonomous vehicles.

At both the federal and state levels, we anticipate that occupational licensure, an issue of great importance to all NSPE members and professional engineers, will garner further attention. NSPE has been leading the charge to defend and protect engineering licensure from attacks in state legislatures, Congress, and regulatory agencies, and from powerful nonprofit advocacy groups. There has been a growing movement to roll back occupational licensure requirements. Unfortunately, these attempts have indiscriminately grouped professions that protect the public health, safety, and welfare, such as engineering, with those that do not. We expect that in 2017 these efforts will only increase. NSPE will be working to educate, advocate, and promote the key importance of engineering licensure.

The historic 2016 election promises to bring major changes that present both opportunities and challenges to policymaking. NSPE will be at the forefront advocating for professional engineers and the public they protect.

Arielle Eiser is NSPE’s senior government relations manager.