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Hijacking the Engineering Profession

Sept. 3, 2009
The National Society of Professional Engineers wants every engineer to be licensed, or possibly face legal action.

A degree from an accredited engineering school and a job in your company’s engineering department lets you call yourself an engineer, right? Think again. Professional engineers, a small fraction of the engineering community, are attempting to own the word “engineer” and are taking legal steps to have their way.

Illinois, like other states, has a Professional Engineering Act that licenses engineers who design roads, sewers, airports, power plants, and other large, public works. The Act specifically exempts engineers who design products or conduct research for manufacturers or industry.

Nonetheless, PEs are highly organized and have spent millions lobbying to become the gateway to determining who is an engineer. It is the relentless objective of the National Society of Professional Engineers that all engineers (other than Licensed Structural Engineers) become licensed PEs and pay annual licensing fees. In the mid-80s, they succeeded in amending the Illinois and many other states’ P.E. Acts so that using the title “engineer” or any of its derivations implies you are a licensed professional engineer. They have tried, thus far without success, to have the manufacturing exemption deleted from the Act.

The Act also lets any third party with a real or imagined grievance drag an engineer or company into court claiming fraud if they are not licensed. I’m living that nightmare. I have a BSME from the Univ. of Illinois and founded Budd Engineering in 1959. I’ve designed hundreds of products for manufacturers and have never practiced professional engineering. Yet the Illinois Dept. of Professional Regulation, which has not questioned my competence, is prosecuting me and my firm. Their entire case rests on the fact that my firm is Budd Engineering and I call myself an engineer.

The complaint was instigated by a former client. If they don’t allow the manufacturing exemption, I’ll be liable for two civil penalties of up to $5,000 each. A Class A misdemeanor and a Class 4 felony can also be imposed.

If the Department can establish a precedent against someone with my credentials, who is safe? Many engineers and companies may be forced to defend themselves or change their names. The Act leaves every engineering company vulnerable to being sued by lawyers on contingency. Unfortunately for MACHINE DESIGN’s engineering readership, similar P.E. Acts exist in most states.

The Illinois Manufacturers Assn., The Institute for Justice, and many others recognize the absurdity of graduate engineers not being able to legally identify themselves as engineers, and support my case.

I have better things to do than waste my time on this fight and spend my retirement fund on legal fees. I have promoted engineering all my life, so the last thing I would advocate is engineering fratricide. But MACHINE DESIGN’s readers and members of engineering organizations must coalesce to prevent a determined and organized minority with a large lobbying budget from imposing their will on the vast majority of engineers — threatening our livelihood and even identity.

Learn more about Mr. Siegal’s battle, including his countersuit in Illinois Circuit Court, at www.IAmAnEngineer.org.

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