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ASCE’s Strategic Priorities Target Infrastructure Renewal and Civil Engineering Education and Practice

July 2008 Volume 33, Number 7

ASCE’s Board of Direction is giving special attention and allocating resources to three major professional issues: improving America’s infrastructure; raising the educational bar for entry into the profession; and helping shape the civil engineer’s role in an era characterized by, among other trends, the offshoring of work, the larger roles played by technicians and software, and a perceived commoditization of services.

The infrastructure strategy targets a number of fronts. asce’s strategic issue statement highlights two areas: the years of deferred infrastructure investment and maintenance and the civil engineering profession’s continuing efforts to strengthen its communication with policy makers and the public. Deferring investments in infrastructure renewal and maintenance has put the health, safety, and welfare of the public at risk, impeded economic growth and competitiveness, and lowered the quality of life.

As part of its continuing adjustment and refocusing of strategies, ASCE recently fine-tuned its infrastructure targets. The Society seeks an increase of at least 3 percent in constant dollars per year in total public and private funding for infrastructure from 2009 through 2015, with the understanding that progress is to be measured not just in dollars but also in innovative policy approaches that lower the need for new construction. ASCE also seeks to significantly improve the grades meted out in its 2005 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure (www.asce.org/reportcard/2005/index.cfm) by 2017.

ASCE’s 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure is due for release in March, and as before, publication will provide an opportunity to stimulate debate and to propose, highlight, and promote solutions. Over the past two years, as various infrastructure tragedies have made headlines, ASCE has been the “go-to” source for expertise and insights when it comes to explaining untoward events and describing infrastructure shortcomings to the media. ASCE representatives have appeared on television news programs and been quoted in national newspapers. Data from the 2005 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure even found their way into a front-page Wall Street Journal advertisement promoting infrastructure investment tools. As part of ASCE’s infrastructure strategy, a major investment will be made in outreach efforts next year when the infrastructure assessment is released. In this way the Society can further enhance its leadership role in this important area as it seeks to improve the nation’s quality of life.

ASCE’s multipronged Action Plan for the 110th Congress (www.asce.org/reportcard/2005/actionplan07.cfm) also puts the Society at the forefront in championing the need for infrastructure renewal. In particular, the plan calls for the enactment of important bills affecting aviation, bridges, roads, mass transit, brownfields, dams, levees, drinking water and wastewater systems, and inland waterways (see “Members Deliver Action Plan to 110th Congress,” ASCE News, April 2007, page 1). Through the efforts of ASCE and other parties working with it, a number of milestones have already been met as various bills have moved through the legislative process.

ASCE also promotes state and local action on infrastructure. Region 4, for example, is using a Society grant to help its states produce state-level infrastructure assessments, which will enable civil engineers in those areas to bring shortcomings and deficiencies to the attention of state leaders and the general public. (Region 4 encompasses Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.) Numerous ASCE sections across the country have used infrastructure assessments as a way of making their case to policy makers. ASCE has also reached out to communities through local workshops that explain how addressing water infrastructure questions is in everyone’s interest.

All of this speaks to a key goal of ASCE’s infrastructure strategy, namely, establishing the Society as a credible, trusted, and effective source and as an organization that can bring the interests of the public to the attention of public- and private-sector decision makers. In this vein, members of ASCE are encouraged to take a more active role in political and policy processes. They could do this by serving as elected or appointed officials or simply by assuming a higher profile in discussions in their communities and in meetings with their elected representatives.

Properly preparing civil engineering students for entry into professional practice remains at the core of ASCE’s “raise the bar” initiative. Here the Society continues its long-standing initiative to make a master’s degree or 30 credits of postbaccalaureate education mandatory for those seeking licensure. (Those currently licensed as professional engineers would not be affected.) No major profession other than engineering requires just four years of education for licensure, and given the breadth and complexity of civil engineering practice today, the profession needs to take the lead in making the required changes.

Significant victories have been logged along the way, including the requirement of 30 postbaccalaureate credits in the model licensing law drawn up by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), publication of a report—Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge for the 21st Century - (http://apps.asce.org/professional/educ/) - detailing what one aspiring to become a professional civil engineering should know, acceptance of new accreditation criteria based upon this body of knowledge, and removal of the ban on accrediting both a bachelor’s and a graduate engineering program at the same university. (See “ABET Rescinds Ban on Dual Accreditation,” ASCE News, May 2008, page 1.)

A major lobbying effort will be required to change the engineering licensure laws of states to correspond to the ncees model. That critical portion of the campaign began this year with an effort to pass legislation in Nebraska. As a result, the Nebraska legislature has established a commission to examine the educational requirements for licensure. Work will continue on this and other fronts in the long process of upgrading the educational and experience requirements for licensure.

Shaping the role of the civil engineer in professional practice, the third of ASCE’s current major professional priorities, goes hand in hand with the initiative that led to the publication of The Vision for Civil Engineering in 2025 (http://content.asce.org/vision2025/index.html). That report sought to define the role of the civil engineer in a world where technicians, technologists, and offshore engineers are expected to figure more prominently on engineering teams. Civil engineers need to become master integrators and leaders, bringing to bear a broad array of skills and disciplines. The hourly basis of pricing, competitive bidding for services, and a lack of appreciation of the value provided by the civil engineer give credence to the notion that civil engineering is becoming more of a commodity. The profession needs to ambitiously transform itself into a recognized leader in public policy, and it should be at the forefront in integrating those policies through innovative planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of public and private works.

As part of this strategy, the Society assembled a special task committee to draw up a road map for achieving the objectives set forth in The Vision for Civil Engineering in 2025, and a number of the steps outlined in that map, which is to be submitted to the Board of Direction in November, should find their way into ASCE initiatives in the years to come.

As ASCE’s planning process has taken root, the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) has appointed liaisons to the various committees charged with carrying out the strategies and has asked those individuals to ensure that roles are clear and that lines of communication remain open so that dialogue is fostered. As part of its mission, the SPC periodically reassesses the issues facing the profession and the Society. At its most recent meeting, it focused more attention on the Society’s sustainability efforts and on how generational differences are affecting engineering practice. The Board of Direction, which oversees the Society’s strategic priorities and sets direction, will be discussing strategic issues at a meeting in November. The process reflects the dynamic way in which strategic priorities are considered and reconsidered as the civil engineering environment evolves. asce’s strategic plan has not gotten comfortable somewhere on a shelf.

As an ASCE member, what do you see as the key strategic issues confronting the civil engineering profession in the next several years? Tell the SPC by e-mailing strategy@asce.org.

 

Are You an Elected or Appointed Official?

As part of its infrastructure strategy, ASCE is seeking to ensure that “civil engineers are effectively engaged in and influencing public and private decision-making processes affecting the nation’s infrastructure.” To help the Society further its policy goals and obtain information on political engagement, members are urged to complete an online survey.

If you are an elected or appointed official or have good relationships with elected or appointed officials at the state or federal level, please complete the survey today. Visit www.asce.org/govrel and click on “Participate in Elected Office Inventory Survey.”