Four years ago I had the good fortune to be appointed to the Iowa Engineering and Surveying Licensing Board, on which I continue to serve. The sobering reality of this appointment hit home immediately. For the first time in my life……I was a regulator.
The Iowa Administrative Code defines the purpose of this board.
“The practices of engineering and land surveying affect the life, health and property of the people of Iowa. The engineering and land surveying examining board’s principle mandate is the protection of the public interest.”
During much of my career, my interaction with regulators and regulatory bodies has been from the perspective of dealing with them for various project approvals. This is often a less-than-pleasant experience; one that involves confusing requirements, takes too long, costs too much and results in a final product that does not completely satisfy any of the stakeholders.
Now that I have regulatory responsibilities, I tend to be very sensitive to how our board actions impact the licensing process. Does it take too long? Are there too many hoops for licensees to jump through to accomplish something? Is the process confusing to the users of the system? Ultimately, however, do I enforce the applicable laws and rules?
The implications of the regulatory environment were clearly communicated in a number of technical papers presented at the recent American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Electrical Transmission and Substation Structures Conference.
One paper explained the process for linear facilities (power lines) that cross federal lands. For these projects to be approved, they must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This process requires a rigorous journey that involves federal, state and local agencies, all with their distinct sets of regulations. Public stakeholder input is also involved. This ends up being a long, difficult and costly process that could take up to ten years.
Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) rebuilt a 500 kV transmission line over a large lake. A major state highway also crossed the lake close to the line. The property adjacent to the lake at the crossing was a state park. TVA had to satisfy a number of regulatory bodies. The Corps of Engineers had requirements for how high the conductors had to be above the water. The FAA had requirements related to the height of the towers and conductors. Tennessee DOT had limitations related to the distance between the line and the highway. The National Electrical Safety Code had clearance requirements related to the lake, highway and ground surface in the park, as did the Tennessee Park Service. Just when they thought they had all the bases covered, an osprey made a nest in one of their towers, so the US Fish & Wildlife service became involved. Just when you think it is okay to go out on the water……
These examples illustrate the complexity of using rules and regulatory bodies to ensure the health, welfare and safety of the public. Statutory rules exist and regulators simply ensure that everyone complies with these rules. So it should be a relatively simple matter to serve on a board. As ESPN’s Lee Corso is fond of saying “…not so fast, my friend…”
Recently in North Carolina, individuals who were offering teeth whitening services were told to cease offering the services because the Dental Board ruled that they were improperly providing dental services without a license. The courts are still weighing this issue, and licensing boards across the country are monitoring the status of the debate.
Iowans who want to provide hair braiding services are objecting to a recent opinion of the Iowa Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences that they cannot do so without a license. They argue that providing these services does not require the time and considerable expense necessary to become licensed. Again, more to come on this one.
The Iowa state law for licensed professional engineers requires the following:
“Licensees shall undertake to perform engineering or land surveying assignments only when qualified by education of experience in the specific technical field of professional engineering or professional land surveying involved.” IAC 8.2(2)
The Code of Ethics of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) uses similar language to describe engineer qualifications: http://www.nspe.org/resources/ethics/code-ethics#sthash.OP5Dz8ui.dpuf
Thankfully, the majority of the members of the Iowa engineering and surveying board are required by statute to be licensed professionals. This is true of all professional licensing boards.
Yet many governmental agencies and legislative bodies make regulatory policy. They are not always required to be staffed with professionals with expertise in the fields for which they are making rules.
As a professional engineer, I will close by repeating another statement made at the ASCE conference. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all those who create regulations were required, as are professional engineers, to restrict their activities only to fields in which they are qualified by relevant education and experience?