Are Federal Engineering Jobs Really Engineering Jobs?

July/August 2017

NSPE Today: Policy Perspectives
Are Federal Engineering Jobs Really Engineering Jobs?


A new administration presents new opportunities to address long-standing public policy issues of importance to the professional engineering community. NSPE and the PEs it represents have consistently advocated that federal employees, who by federal statute may be exempt from state engineering licensure laws, but who are in responsible charge of engineering activities as defined in the NCEES Model Law, should be required by federal agency policy to be licensed professional engineers in at least one jurisdiction. In a new letter to the Office of Personnel Management, NSPE asserts the need to align engineering position responsibilities with licensure standards across the federal government.

Professional Engineering PositionOn May 9, NSPE President Kodi Verhalen, P.E., Esq., F.NSPE, sent comments to OPM addressing the individual occupational requirements for all “Professional Engineering Positions, 0800.” These requirements set forth basic standards for education, additional experience and training provisions for graduates of engineering programs, types of creditable work experience, and requirements for engineering licensure within the federal workforce.

The term “professional engineer” is a recognized, protected, and defined term under state statutes and regulations in all US states and territories. The licensing process for professional engineers began in 1907 and is regulated by state and territory licensing boards. OPM’s use of the term “professional engineering” to define positions that are not professional engineering positions creates substantial confusion about job scope and responsibilities. NSPE, therefore, urged OPM to stop using the term “Professional Engineering Positions” and to retitle the classification as “Engineering Positions.”

To attain licensure as a professional engineer, an individual must earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering from a program accredited by ABET’s Engineering Accreditation Commission or one assessed by the EAC as substantially comparable. OPM includes this requirement for its “Professional Engineering Positions”; but it also offers alternatives that would not otherwise qualify for engineering licensure in any US state or territory. If OPM is unwilling to revise its requirements for anyone fulfilling a “Professional Engineering Position,” NSPE requests that OPM revise its standards to ensure that the educational requirements for these positions align with existing educational standards outside of the federal government.

OPM’s standards do specifically address licensure as a professional engineer, stating, “Registration or licensure as a professional engineer is an appropriate selective factor for appointment to certain, typically high-level, engineering positions. The key consideration is that registration or licensure must be essential for acceptable performance of the work of the positions to be filled.” OPM further defines specific instances where a PE would be required.

Professional engineers are all too familiar with the exemptions that enable unlicensed individuals to engage in the practice of engineering. To ensure the most qualified individuals are designing, maintaining, and operating the engineering projects across our nation, thereby protecting the public health, safety, and welfare, federal agencies must revise their standards to mandate that a licensed professional engineer is in responsible charge of all federal engineering projects.

NSPE Debuts New Advocacy Tools for Members

NSPE has published three new advocacy and outreach tools for promoting professional engineers and the issues of importance to PEs and the profession as a whole.

The advocacy tools are customized to different audiences and promote professional engineering to the public, policymakers, and other stakeholders. These materials explain what a professional engineer is and what makes the license stand out, while also discussing the important role PEs play in protecting the public health, safety, and welfare. The advocacy tools also identify the top legislative and regulatory threats professional engineers are facing in 2017, as well as NSPE’s latest hard-fought efforts and advocacy wins.

To learn more, visit

Arielle Eiser is NSPE’s senior government relations manager.