NSPE Delivers Policy Priorities to White House

Spring 2021

NSPE Today: Policy Perspectives
NSPE Delivers Policy Priorities to White House

BY STEPHANIE HAMILTON

In February, NSPE sent a letter to the White House Domestic Policy Council, outlining its policy priorities, expressing concern over some actions taken or proposed by the administration, and offering to be a resource in these areas. The goal of the letter was to open a channel for dialog between the administration and NSPE and provide opportunities for us to shape federal public policy.

The letter covered five policy areas in which NSPE’s unique voice is especially relevant.

1. Emerging technologies

NSPE’s letter urged the administration to “implement a regulatory framework for emerging technologies that encourages innovation while continuing to protect the public.” NSPE’s Professional Policy No. 03 states that the organization supports the development of emerging technologies “in a manner that protects the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” This includes all phases of development, testing, and deployment.

Groundbreaking innovations, like autonomous vehicles and smart cities, can profoundly change society for the better. The process of developing these technologies, however, must be managed responsibly to avoid unintentional harm to the public. Not only is public harm an issue in and of itself, but it can also create public distrust of technology, as we’ve seen in the aftermath of high-profile tragedies like the 2018 accident in which a self-driving Uber killed a pedestrian.

Professional engineers have a vital role to play at every step of the development, testing, and deployment of emerging technologies. NSPE will remain engaged with the Biden administration to ensure that the PE’s voice is part of any conversation related to emerging technologies.

2. Improved access to STEM education

NSPE’s Position Statement No. 02-176 details the organization’s strong advocacy for access to STEM education for all students, especially “students who exhibit an aptitude for, or an interest in pursuing STEM-related careers.” STEM careers, including engineering, are vital to the nation’s economic prosperity and national security.

Improving access means addressing shortfalls in internet and broadband access, updating classroom material and other school resources, and providing after school STEM activities. It also means focusing these improvements in both urban and rural communities.

3. Professional licensing’s role in addressing equity issues

The recent study commissioned by the Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing found that “among professionals in technical fields requiring significant education and training, a license narrows the gender-driven wage gap by about one-third and the race-driven wage gap by about half.” While licensure alone won’t solve every problem, it can level at least one portion of the playing field.

With that in mind, NSPE strongly encouraged the Biden administration to consider eliminating professional licensing exemptions for federal workers and contractors. NSPE has long opposed these exemptions, which allow unlicensed individuals to perform work that should be reserved for licensed professionals who have met minimum education, examination, and experience standards.

4. Common sense climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability policies

NSPE is committed to taking reasonable, science-based actions to address environmental sustainability and resilience issues. Our letter to the administration made it clear that, while we are open to working on environmental policies, we strongly urge caution against “taking drastic measures that result in unnecessary job losses in the energy and related sectors.” We expressed concern about recent administration policies that could exacerbate unemployment or raise energy costs for the general public.

A recent House Science, Space, and Technology hearing on the science behind climate change included expert testimony from witnesses who have been at the forefront of technology development and deployment in both sustainable and fossil fuel energies. The witnesses repeatedly mentioned technologies, such as carbon capture and battery storage, that are in testing but need improvement. PEs, with their ethical commitment to protect public health and safety, have a unique and important role to play in the development of these and other sustainable technologies. NSPE’s letter to the administration made that clear.

5. Proper investment in infrastructure

“Proper investment” was the key phrase in our infrastructure comments. Years of underfunding have caused the nation’s infrastructure to crumble. The US has a lot of work to do in this area, and PEs will be at the center of it. We believe the public benefits when licensed professional engineers play a lead role in creating, maintaining, and renewing infrastructure. To ensure that our bridges, roads, ports, and public transit systems can be not just repaired, but also improved, a strategic budget process must be developed and maintained by all levels of government. Without vital improvements, we will be unable to adequately handle future needs or design the upgrades necessary to integrate our infrastructure with emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles and smart cities.

This was our first outreach to the current administration, but not the last. The NSPE Government Relations team will be assertive and consistent in presenting the PE’s perspective and expertise, working to ensure the PE voice is heard, and that NSPE has a seat at the table.

Stephanie Hamilton is NSPE’s manager of government relations and advocacy.