NSPE Today: Policy Perspectives
NSPE Champions Federal Legislation To Strengthen QBS Requirements
BY ARIELLE EISER
NSPE successfully advocated for the inclusion of an important provision in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 4) to strengthen qualifications-based selection requirements for airports. NSPE and other engineering and construction associations sent a letter to Bill Shuster (R-PA), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, urging the incorporation of a bipartisan amendment offered by Rep. Bruce Westerman, P.E. (R-AR) and Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL).
NSPE believes professional engineers, qualified based on education, experience, and examination, should perform all engineering services that potentially impact the health, safety, and welfare of the public. NSPE supports the procurement of design professional services based on qualifications and strongly supports the Brooks A/E Act of 1972 (PL 92-582), which requires federal agencies to use QBS procedures when obtaining design professional services. NSPE also supports the adoption of “mini-Brooks” laws at the state and local level.
Highly skilled services that impact public safety, such as engineering services, are simply too critical to leave to the lowest bid. The selection process should be based on expertise, qualifications, and the ability to perform the work to protect the interests and well-being of our citizens.
The Westerman-Lipinski amendment clarifies existing rules to ensure that airports follow a uniform QBS process for airport projects that use Airport Improvement Program funds. The amendment states, “[E]ngineering and design are highly skilled, multi-disciplined professions whose services directly affect public safety and welfare. Firms provide technical expertise, innovation, and the latest technologies—skills that are the most important factors in enhancing project performance and cost savings. QBS ensures that these attributes are emphasized in the procurement process.”
As a result of this initiative, the amendment was incorporated into the legislation. The House of Representatives approved the FAA reauthorization on April 27 by a vote of 393–13. The focus is now on the Senate where companion legislation is being drafted.
NSPE Fights Ohio Legislation Threatening the PE License
Threats to engineering licensure continue to emerge in state legislatures. In coordination with the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers, NSPE is fighting Ohio S.B. 255, which could undermine and potentially eliminate engineering licensure in the state. The legislation sets forth a new policy allowing the state to use the least restrictive regulation to protect consumers from present, significant, and substantiated harms that threaten public health and safety. The policy of employing the least restrictive regulation shall “presume that market competition and private remedies are sufficient to protect consumers.” The legislation also establishes a sunset date for all occupational licensing boards and directs a sunset review for each board every five years. The bill places the burden on each board to defend its very existence in each review.
In a letter to the Ohio Senate president, committee chairman, and the bill’s Senate sponsor, NSPE President Tom Roberts, P.E., F.NSPE, urged defeat of the legislation. “Requiring the state’s engineering board to defend its continued existence every five years based on a standard presuming that the market protects the public is a radical departure from the system that was designed specifically to protect Ohio’s citizens,” Roberts wrote. “Engineering services require complex designs, planning, coordination, established expertise, and projects that can last years, if not decades. Selecting an unqualified provider can have extraordinary safety and economic consequences. These are not services that can be judged by a layperson or protected by market forces. Engineering licensure exists specifically to ensure that experts with deep knowledge of the field establish a comprehensive and thoughtful oversight system to protect the public. The new state standard and proposed sunset review poses a grave safety risk.”
The narrative around licensure that has gained prominence in many states needs to change and recognize our regulatory system’s vital role in protecting the public health, safety, and welfare. A professional engineer’s foremost responsibility is to protect the public, and Ohio’s current engineering licensure system is designed to ensure this protection.
Arielle Eiser is NSPE’s associate director of government relations and advocacy.