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In my last blog I introduced our ethics project we hope to make progress on.  But here is one of the interesting questions, especially in Florida.  I could not find any actual laws or rules issues here, but 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? There is an interesting issue raised in 287.055 FS (CCNA) where the legal intent is that governmental agencies “shall negotiate a contract with the most qualified firm for professional services at compensation which the agency determines is fair, competitive, and reasonable.” Most states use credentials and qualifications for selection as opposed to cost, because the lowest cost may not get you the best job.  You want people doing engineering that have experience with the type of project you are doing.  This has come up to me with storage tanks, membrane plans, deep wells, etc.  You want someone that has done it before, not someone who is cheaper but hasn’t. There is too much at risk.

In addition the statute is fairly specific about contingent fees (as are most states):

Ch 287.055  (6) PROHIBITION AGAINST CONTINGENT FEES.—

(a) 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.” For the breach or violation of this provision, the agency shall have the right to terminate the agreement without liability and, at its discretion, to deduct from the contract price, or otherwise recover, the full amount of such fee, commission, percentage, gift, or consideration.

So here is the question:  As the public becomes more aware of these types of political lobbying 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.  Somehow I think the politicizing of engineering contracts does not help our profession.  Looking forward to your thoughts.

 


IMG_8055So as 2016 starts, it is time to look at goals for the coming year.  I have several project in mind that I would like to make progress on this year. The first is interesting.  We have embarked on a project that looks at engineering ethics.  The study have several parts:

  1. Historical context
  2. Engineering societies
  3. Laws and rules by the state
  4. Perceptions
  5. Future directions

One of my reference points is an old publication from ASCE by Murray Mantell, who I got to know about 15 years ago.  He wrote such a book in 1964 when he was char of the University of Miami’s Department of Civil Engineering.  I believe he has since passed on, but I have used his book in some of my courses.

Other references come from contact with the Board of Professional Engineers in each state and various society’s code of ethics, and historical versions of same. However a “hole” in our project is the perceptions piece.  Views change with time and with technology.  Things like competition, lobbying, risk and costs create added pressures on engineers and a need to react to those pressures.  So what we would like to do is create a survey monkey survey for engineers, professional and not to respond to as a means to evaluate perceptions.

I do not have ready access to a database for this purpose.  Gathering data form many states would be difficult as well and duplicative as many engineers have multiple licenses.  However, your organization does not have this constraint.  So I am reaching out to several societies to see if there is a means to collaborate on this endeavor.  The program is as follows:

  1. Complete the questionnaire (I have a draft but if anyone has thoughts on what we should ask, I would love to hear them)
  2. Make any final changes and launch it
  3. Send notices to members.

I am hoping that some of these organizations will find benefit and will agree to participate by emailing the survey link to their members.  I will compile the data and we expect to publish it.  Most of the work so far is being done via email, and thanks to some prior students for gathering information on it.  I have a ways to go here though.  So what are your thoughts?  If anyone can help with ASCE, NSPE, ACEC, etc, I would appreciate it.  And if you get that email with a link, I would appreciate your input and comments.


A couple weeks ago we conducted a one week camp for middle schoolers at our engineering department.  So 15 kids, 12-14 and what do my Tas Julia and Dylan, and I do to entertain them, keep them out of trouble, be safe and have them learn something?  Well of course build things and destroy them or course!.  So as you can see in the photos, we did concrete cylinders, popcicle stick buildings, popcicle stick dams (for water), spaghetti bridges, and filters.  And spent a whole day destroying all of it.  Of course then they were required to do a short presentation before they could have pizza, but at this age, they did a decent job.  If fact there were some really smart kids in the group.  They did great with the concrete – competing with older kids on the mix.  The buildings were interesting – triangles work well, and glue will help make your spaghetti bridge bend, but not break.  Lots of glue.  Ridiculous amounts of glue.  But it was fun, and several of them want to be civil engineers.  So get them while they are young!

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