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(Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash)

By Mona Savino & Thomas Smith, III


An engineer-an ASCE member-who was also a partner in his firm was approached by the county engineer, who asked the ASCE member if his firm was interested in obtaining government contract work. When the ASCE member said yes, he learned that, to obtain the work, his firm would have to give the county engineer a fee equal to 25 percent of the amount of the contract. Although shocked by the demand, the ASCE member agreed to think it over. Following discussions with his partners, he agreed and over the next four years paid close to $100,000 to the county engineer. When the agreement was first made, the county engineer demanded payment in cash. The ASCE member refused, so an elaborate scheme was devised. The member set up a subsidiary company, the county engineer submitted false billings from other engineering firms for work never provided, and the money was funneled through the subsidiary company.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation eventually became involved and charged the county engineer with extortion. The ASCE member cooperated fully with the investigation and was granted immunity. Members of ASCE's Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC)-the body responsible for investigating ethics complaints against ASCE members and recommending sanctions, when appropriate, to the Board of Direction and the Executive Committee-read an account of this matter in an independent publication and opened an investigation to determine whether the member's actions violated the Society's Code of Ethics.


Did the engineer violate ASCE's Code of Ethics by agreeing to pay a county employee a percentage of any government contracts awarded? This case was considered in the 1970s before the code was revised to its current form. For the sake of discussion, the current code provisions will be substituted for those in existence at the time of the case.

According to the guidelines for practice set forth in the Code of Ethics, category (a) of canon 5 reads as follows: "Engineers shall not give, solicit, or receive, either directly or indirectly, any political contribution, gratuity, or unlawful consideration in order to secure work, exclusive of securing salaried positions through employment agencies." Category (a) of canon 6 has this to say: "Engineers shall not knowingly act in a manner which will be derogatory to the honor, integrity, or dignity of the engineering profession or knowingly engage in business or professional practices of a fraudulent, dishonest, or unethical nature."


In this case, the member was found to have violated the Code of Ethics. The Board of Direction suspended the member for three years despite the fact that the CPC recommended his expulsion. The CPC focused on the fact that this scheme had continued for years and was only brought to a halt because the county engineer was being investigated for extortion. It also noted that the parties had used an elaborate scheme to hide these payments.

In this particular case, the member appeared at the hearing and was eloquent in arguing against expulsion. He acknowledged his wrongdoing and expressed regret over his decision to comply with the county engineer's demands. He stressed that he viewed that decision as necessary to keep his young company in business. Moreover, the member expressed his willingness to work with ASCE to educate engineers and engineering students about the importance of complying with the Code of Ethics. Although board members took exception to his notion that business decisions could somehow be divorced from ethics, they were influenced by the fact that the member was young and lacked experience in running a business.

As promised to the board, this member did, in fact, give many talks to students and engineering groups on what he learned from his experiences and participated in a training seminar featuring a mock disciplinary hearing. The CPC was so impressed with his commitment that its members voted unanimously to recommend to the board that the member be reinstated before his term of suspension had been completed. The board accepted that recommendation.

The mock hearing was so well received by those in attendance that the board decided to turn it into a video. Anyone wishing to borrow this video,  The Case of Marvin Camper , may call the ASCE ethics hotline at (703) 295-6061 or (800) 548-ASCE(2723), extension 6061. This hotline may also be used to obtain advice on ethics questions or to file a complaint.

Although this video was made many years ago, the issue of corruption is unfortunately still very much with us, and the CPC has considered a number of similar cases. Through ASCE's Task Committee on Global Principles for Professional Conduct, ASCE is currently working with other engineering societies around the world to develop principles for professional conduct that will, it is hoped, help reduce fraud, bribery, and corruption in the engineering and construction industry. The task committee has developed guidelines to further clarify responsibilities under ASCE's Code of Ethics, and the committee is working on a survey to learn more about exposure to fraud and corruption and how best to respond. Please visit  http://apps.asce.org/inside/global/  for more information about this important initiative.

© ASCE, ASCE News, June, 2005