John A. Nawn, P.E., FNSPE
Thank you for electing me your President. I am truly honored. I would be remiss if I failed to thank the conference committee for the fine job they did in putting together an excellent conference and annual meeting. I also want to acknowledge and thank all the past presidents of the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers. These esteemed colleagues laid the foundation for our great Society. My pledge to you is that I will shepherd the Society in a manner that continues and honors your great work.
You have elected me your leader and I intend to lead. You did not elect me your manager. The Society has an excellent manager in our Executive Director and she does an outstanding job. In the past, the board has spent far too much time and energy looking at ourselves; managing the Society. We are not doing that this year. We are going to stop looking inward. We are going to look outward. We are going to focus on our mission. The Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers represents and protects the professional practice of engineering in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We support the professional engineer.
We are not an education society. There are many resources for that. But, we do offer some of the finest education opportunities in the state. I get most, if not all of my required PDHs through the Society. We are not a technical society. We represent the interest of all professional engineers regardless of field of practice or expertise. What we are is your collective voice, echoing your concerns and issues as a unified voice.
The Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers is a derivative society. Our existence is derived from the professional practice of engineering in this Commonwealth. Without professional engineering licensure, we – PSPE – has no need to exist. So, it’s not about us, its not about PSPE, its about our mission, its about you. The professional practice of engineering is far greater than the society itself. And that practice is currently under attack.
The clearest example of this was in Indiana, a state not so far away from ours. In Indiana, a bill made it all the way to the governor’s desk to eliminate all licensing boards in the state. No more requirement of need for professional engineering licensure. No more need for the Indiana Society of Professional Engineers. What would that do for your ‘value’. More importantly, what does that do to public health, safety and welfare? And do not make the same incorrect assumption I did, that unlicensed engineers would now be doing the work. What makes us think that even graduate engineers would be doing the work? Perhaps folks with one-year technology certificates or maybe 2 year associates degrees would now be doing the work formerly performed by licensed professionals. What would the impact to public health, safety and welfare be under this scenario?
I do not want to be a commodity. I do not ever remember taking a pledge or swearing an oath to protect public health, safety and welfare when I received either of my engineering degrees. I did, however, agree to hold public health, safety and welfare paramount above all other considerations when I became a professional engineer, though.
Indiana is not the only place that threats to our licensure are occurring, though. The states of Washington, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Oklahoma, Michigan, Louisiana, Kansas, Ohio, Maryland and Delaware. By my count, that’s 25% of the states including some of our adjoining states. There have been moves to eliminate qualification-based selection in Kansas and Michigan. In Louisiana, there has been a dilution of education requirements. In Ohio, there has been a dilution of the responsibilities of the professional engineer. In Minnesota, professional engineer licensure is under attack due to special certifications. In Oklahoma, like Illinois, there is a push to separately license structural engineers. Even here in Pennsylvania, PSPE regularly monitors and lobbies against the licensing of Home Inspectors, a bill for which is introduced in almost every session.
How does this happen? In Indiana, it started with something called the Jobs Creation Committee. In Kansas, it started with something called an Efficiency Audit. I invite you to check out the website of the American Legislative Exchange Council, www.alec.org. On that website, you will find model legislation that states can use to eliminate professional licensure. In every instance, the move to eliminate licensure starts with a discussion about jobs, taxes and/or money. Professional engineering licensure is not about jobs, taxes or money, its about public health, safety and welfare. We need to change the discussion.
Most recently in Pennsylvania, our friends and sister organization, the Professional Land Surveyors, lost some of their rights under the professional practice of land surveying. A company called Davey Tree uses semi-skilled technicians with GPS units to survey above ground utility locations for public utility companies. The Pennsylvania licensing board for professional land surveyors brought an action against Davey Tree. Davey Tree appealed to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, and Commonwealth Court overturned the decision of the Pennsylvania licensing board for professional land surveyors. That’s our own judges; judges that we elected. Our government is not going to protect us.
What did we do at PSPE? We helped the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors with proposed changes to the land surveying law, to hopefully prevent this from occurring again. We proposed changes to our own professional engineering law to hopefully prevent similar attacks to our practice. We introduced amendments to our current House Bill 1704 reflecting our proposed changes.
These attacks on professional engineering can, have and will continue to happen. The bottom line is that the general populous seems to be under the impression that anyone can do what we do. Maybe the practice of professional engineering is not even needed anymore. Anyone can do what we can do, I suppose. Right? No! The public, our legislature, big business is sacrificing public health, safety and welfare in favor of jobs, lower taxes and less government. As a highway engineer, I have legitimate concerns about public health safety and welfare with the Davey Tree decision. I rely on plans provided by the utility companies for the location of their facilities. Now I have to be concerned that the plans I receive from the utility companies have locations that were not established by licensed professional surveyors and were not established by individuals that abide by a code of professional practice set by the Commonwealth. This most certainly adversely impacts public health safety and welfare. Will it save the utility companies a few bucks, sure. Will they pass it on to the ratepayer, the consumer, maybe? Will I have to expend more effort, more time and money to verify the locations of above ground utilities, yes? And since almost all highway design is done with taxpayer dollars, will that cost you and the taxpayers, more money, me in the long run, yes! So, our Commonwealth Court, the judges that you and I elected, sacrificed public health safety and welfare in the interest of the profits of utility companies and an out of state corporation while likely costing us more tax dollars in then long run. We need to change the discussion.
So how do we change the discussion? We need to speak louder by having more people talking. We need a louder voice. We need more members. The Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers represents the interests of all licensed professional engineers in the Commonwealth, but less than 10% are members.
Membership is not solely my job. Not solely the executive committees job. Not solely the Board of Directors job. Not solely the membership committee’s job. Membership is everyone’s job. Membership is your job. You need to step up and speak louder for your Society, for your professional engineer license, for public health, safety and welfare. You, everyone, needs to get a new member. This year is not going to be about what I’m going to do, its about what you are going to do.
So I want to leave you with some charges and some challenges. A charge is the baseline; the minimum expectation as a member of the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers. A challenge is a goal.
For my first charge, I charge you to show up. I am an adjunct professor of engineering. The number one thing I tell my students is: show up. You are paying for it. The first thing you can do to ensure success in your job when you graduate is to: show up. As a PSPE member, I charge you to show up. Attend all your chapter meetings. Participate in Mathcounts. Attend the annual conference. Attend the other events we have; participate. Make the most of your membership. Your participation makes out voice louder.
For my second charge, I charge you to buy a license plate. We have this fantastic opportunity in Pennsylvania with the availability of a license plate that says PA Professional Engineer on it. So take advantage of it. Sure, PSPE makes a few bucks on each plate sold, but that’s not why I want you to buy one. The extraordinary value of the license plate is the exposure to the public, the exposure to thousands of drivers on the road each day around the state with the words PA Professional Engineer and the PSPE logo. The license plate helps spreads the word; helps start the discussion, helps make our voice louder.
For my third charge, I charge you to contribute to our PAC, our Political Action Committee. Our PAC is a component of our leverage with the state legislature. I’m not asking you to like the concept of politics or political contributions or even Pennsylvania politics, but as engineers, we understand systems. And this is the way the system works in Pennsylvania. We understand that to be successful, we must work within the system. Make no mistake, this is a fight; this is battle. As a member, you employ a great warrior, one of the best in the Commonwealth, as our lobbyist. And he is equipped with possibly the greatest weapon of all: the protection of public health, safety and welfare. Now, let’s provide him with some ammunition to put in that weapon. It’s not hard. Just write a personnel check made payable to “PSPE PAC” and send it to our Harrisburg office. Simple. Do it today. The more ammunition we have, the louder our voice will be heard.
Those are your charges, the baseline, the minimum expectations for you as a member. Now let’s talk about the challenges.
For my first challenge, I challenge you to get a new member. No gimmicks, no contests, no free six-month membership. Think about why you belong, and then invite someone lese to join. You do not need any message from me; you know why they should join. So tell them. Bring a non-member to a chapter meeting and invite them to join. Simple. No excuses. As we represent the interest of all professional engineers in the Commonwealth, its time we stopped giving the non-member professional engineers a free ride. It’s time for them to step up, too. It’s about speaking louder so we can change the discussion; the more members we have, the louder we speak.
For my second challenge, I challenge you to start a discussion with your local, elected state representative and senator. Visit them regularly at their home office, you know, he office you pay for. They work for you. When you boss calls you into his office, you go. Well, you are the constituent, you are the voter, and you are the boss. Get to know them. I have a relationship with my senator and representative and see them regularly. When I visit other state legislators during legislative day or for other lobbying, they are seeing as a courtesy. They do not have to see me as I am not their constituent. But, if we had at least one PSPE member with a relationship with every state legislator, then we will be more effective at getting our message across. Our voice will be heard louder. I’m challenging you to start a discussion, a relationship. You do not even have to talk about engineering issues and I am not offering any talking points presently. Remind them what you do and why. Remind them about the importance of public health, safety and welfare.
So when you ask me or another Board member what you can do this year for PSPE, I just laid it out for you. I’m not asking you to join a committee, or serve as an officer in the organization. I’m not asking for much more of your time. I’m asking you to meet the charges and challenges I have laid out here. Do those first, then let’s talk about how you can continue to serve your fellow professional engineers.
As professional engineers, we recognize the existence of a higher purpose to what we do. You could say, therefore, that we have a duty to the public to strengthen our organization, to speak louder and collectively protect the professional practice of engineering in the Commonwealth.
This is a call to action. I am assembling the militia as we meet in the shadow of Valley Forge in the cradle of our very liberty. Stand with me. Stand with us. And help change the discussion.