NSPE Today: Policy Perspectives
Is Your License Safe?
BY ARIELLE EISER
Over the last several years, there has been a growing movement to roll back occupational licensure requirements. Although professional engineers play a critical role in protecting the public health, safety, and welfare, it is not uncommon for legislators, regulators, and other policymakers to categorize highly trained professional engineers with barbers, cosmetologists, and even citrus packers. Now, federal and state elections have set the stage for a new era of deregulation.
This means one thing: NSPE and the professional engineering community must be vigilant and proactive to ensure the protection and promotion of engineering licensure. We all have a responsibility to educate policymakers and the public about the value and necessity of engineering licensure and the grave threat to public safety if the licensure process is weakened or eliminated.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational licensing directly affects nearly 30% of the American workforce. The list of affected professionals ranges from doctors, nurses, and engineers— who have a clearly defined imperative to protect the public health, safety, and welfare—to manicurists, naturopaths, and florists. Advocacy organizations, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Institute for Justice, have been vigorously promoting legislative and regulatory changes for years with prominent leaders in politics, business, and other industries. Recently, these efforts have gained momentum with legislation and regulations introduced in states across the country.
Fortunately, many of these efforts have stalled or not affected the professional engineer…yet. However, in June 2015, the Indiana Job Creation Commission, inspired by ALEC’s antioccupational licensure model law, released a draft report recommending the elimination of engineering licensure in Indiana. NSPE and the Indiana Society of Professional Engineers launched an extensive advocacy campaign and successfully convinced then governor Mike Pence’s office to rescind the recommendation in August 2015. This successful advocacy effort demonstrated the power of the professional engineering community but also showed that the lack of understanding about the professional engineer’s critical role must be addressed.
The results of the 2016 federal and state elections have a profound impact on occupational licensure. As the American workforce continues to struggle, policymakers are looking for ways to create new jobs and remove barriers for entry to existing ones. Many view the results of the 2016 election as a mandate for deregulation. President Trump, the leaders of the 115th Congress, and state governors and legislators have pledged to overhaul, streamline, and reduce regulatory processes. This can, of course, have positive implications. However, emphasizing deregulation also can accelerate the momentum for removing and eroding licensure requirements. Policymakers on both sides of the political spectrum are considering options to ease licensure requirements to increase employment.
To further complicate matters, the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners vs. Federal Trade Commission could profoundly impact licensing board composition and oversight. States, through legislation and regulations, are enacting reforms to ensure compliance with the state action supervision requirement.
These changes increase oversight and supervision of licensing boards, often by the state attorney general. They also, in some instances, change the composition of the state board to include nonactive market participants.
As professional engineers well know, licensure is essential to protecting the public health, safety, and welfare. Professional engineers design the highways and bridges we drive on, build and maintain our water treatment systems, and design and implement critical engineered systems across industries and disciplines. Licensure as a professional engineer is not a barrier to entry, it is a vital protection for the public welfare to ensure that the country we live in is safe. This is the message that we must clearly communicate to policymakers at all levels of government and in all sectors affected by the practice of engineering. NSPE is working proactively, in conjunction with its state societies, to promote engineering licensure and defend the PE license against attacks.
In today’s changing political climate, now is the time for professional engineers to come together, champion engineering licensure, and increase awareness and understanding of the profession’s value.
Arielle Eiser is NSPE’s senior government relations manager.