NSPE Today: Policy Perspectives
States Drive Legislative Action
BY ARIELLE EISER
While Congress and the Trump Administration grab most of the headlines, state legislatures are the true drivers of legislative action. In 2017, over 150,000 bills have already been introduced in state legislatures, covering all areas of public policy, including those of great importance to the professional engineering community. In recent months, qualifications-based selection and piping materials requirements have emerged as hot topics in state legislatures. NSPE is working with its state societies to ensure that PEs play a critical role in policymaking and that legislation protects the PE license and the public health, safety, and welfare.
NSPE believes qualified professional engineers, based on design ability, experience, and integrity, should perform all engineering services. NSPE supports the procurement of design professional services based on qualifications and strongly supports PL 92-582 (the Brooks A/E Act of 1972), which requires federal agencies to use qualifications-based selection procedures when obtaining design professional services. NSPE also supports the adoption of “mini-Brooks” laws at the state and local levels. QBS protects public safety and the taxpayer, promotes innovation, and helps small firms compete by providing a forum to demonstrate their unique capabilities.
Unfortunately, misguided attempts to cut immediate short-term costs result in legislative efforts to erode or eliminate QBS in the states. NSPE is working diligently to oppose and defeat such efforts and to educate legislators about the continued value of QBS. For example, NSPE and the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers are fighting an effort to erode qualifications-based selection in Kansas. A report erroneously claims that the Kansas Department of Transportation could save funds by eliminating QBS. In a letter to the chairman and vice chairman of the Kansas House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee, NSPE President Kodi Verhalen, P.E., Esq., F.NSPE, cited a 2009 study conducted by the University of Colorado and the Georgia Institute of Technology regarding procurement of engineering services. The study found that QBS does save government agencies money. Verhalen writes, “QBS consistently reduces overall construction costs, produces better project results, and creates highly satisfied owners.” NSPE strongly supports the continued use of qualifications-based selection for architectural and engineering services and is working to ensure that QBS is preserved and strengthened.
There is a concerted effort to introduce legislation in various state legislatures that would hinder the professional engineer’s judgment in determining the proper type of piping to use on projects. In South Carolina, H. 3652 states, “an official or an engineer of a government agency shall consider all piping material in determining project requirements when state funds are used for a water supply, wastewater, or storm drainage project.” In a joint letter to the South Carolina Senate president pro tempore, NSPE President Kodi Verhalen, P.E., Esq., F.NSPE, and SCSPE President Angela Musselwhite, P.E., opposed the legislation, pointing out that “This section causes major concern because it creates the ability for an ‘official of a governmental agency’ who may not be a professional engineer licensed in South Carolina to have the final decision on piping materials. If this bill is enacted, any advocate of a certain material could persuade an official to choose the material for piping. The professional engineer is already obligated to choose the right piping material, using their own sound judgment based on experience, expertise, qualifications, and the applied knowledge of engineering principles.”
Verhalen and Musselwhite further point out that, under the NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers, “Engineers must perform under a standard of professional behavior that requires adherence to the highest principles of ethical conduct.” If this legislation becomes law, professional engineers will not have the final decision on selection of appropriate piping materials for projects. It is the professional engineer who protects public safety and the professional engineer who must make this decision.
Clearly, while the federal government garners most of the attention, state governments are taking the lead in public policymaking. NSPE and its state societies are proactively advocating for the protection of the PE license and the public health, safety, and welfare on these issues and others that impact the professional engineering community.
To learn more about some of NSPE’s recent advocacy initiatives with states, please see the PE magazine March/April feature article “Advocacy in Action.”
Arielle Eiser is NSPE’s senior government relations manager.