In keeping with this day long event that I chaired last year, I pose a question about a practice that I think should concern engineers. The practice that should be of concern to public officials and engineers is lobbying by engineering companies or their representatives. I searched a while back for rules on this, and finally found a Florida statute that is appropo – “Chapter 287.055 Acquisition of professional architectural, engineering, landscape architectural, or surveying and mapping services; definitions; procedures; contingent fees prohibited; penalties.” This statute states that “the agency shall consider such factors as the ability of professional personnel; whether a firm is a certified minority business enterprise; past performance; willingness to meet time and budget requirements; location; recent, current, and projected workloads of the firms; and the volume of work previously awarded to each firm by the agency, with the object of effecting an equitable distribution of contracts among qualified firms, provided such distribution does not violate the principle of selection of the most highly qualified firms.” Further is notes that each contract entered into by the agency for professional services must contain a prohibition against contingent fees as follows: “The architect (or registered surveyor and mapper or professional engineer, as applicable) warrants that he or she has not employed or retained any company or person, other than a bona fide employee working solely for the architect (or registered surveyor and mapper, or professional engineer, as applicable) to solicit or secure this agreement and that he or she has not paid or agreed to pay any person, company, corporation, individual, or firm, other than a bona fide employee working solely for the architect (or registered surveyor and mapper or professional engineer, as applicable) any fee, commission, percentage, gift, or other consideration contingent upon or resulting from the award or making of this agreement. It further notes that “Any individual, corporation, partnership, firm, or company, other than a bona fide employee working solely for an architect, professional engineer, or registered land surveyor and mapper, who offers, agrees, or contracts to solicit or secure agency contracts for professional services for any other individual, company, corporation, partnership, or firm and to be paid, or is paid, any fee, commission, percentage, gift, or other consideration contingent upon, or resulting from, the award or the making of a contract for professional services shall, upon conviction in a competent court of this state, be found guilty of a first degree misdemeanor, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.” So why is it that it is increasingly common for big engineering contracts to have lawyers, lobbyists, etc. get involved in what is intended to be a qualifications based selection process?
I would suggest that employing lobbyists and lawyers might violate this statute when those folks are the ones donating to campaigns or increasingly “foundations.” And it is not like Florida hasn’t had elected officials go to jail and/or be indicted over such issues. So as the public becomes more aware of these activities, does it move the perception of engineers away from a profession and more towards profession toward developers, lawyers and others who are often seen as less ethical than perhaps engineer, doctors, educators, and scientists? And if so, is this good for either the engineering profession or the local governments (and their utilities) involved in the selection process? The comment that “that’s how business get done” is not an acceptable argument when the priority purpose of engineers, and utility operators is the protection of the HEALTH, SAFETY AND WELFARE OF THE PUBLIC. In many states, qualifications-based selection processes have been enacted for public agencies because getting a professional who has the best qualifications usually means fewer issues arise since they have designed similar projects before and know the pitfalls. Someone who has not, likely will not which can add unexpected costs to a job. Just a thought. Comments?