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(Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash)

By Mona Savino & Thomas Smith, III


An engineer was hired as a subconsultant to carry out a geotechnical site investigation for an engineering firm that was not qualified to do such work. The engineer submitted his report, which stated in part that the soil consisted primarily of "gravel, sandstone, brown coarse sand, and light brown well graded sand." The firm was concerned about the report and the boring logs because the logs did not appear to represent what was at the site. A member of the firm knew that there was a great deal of volcanic rock in that area. But since the subconsultant was a licensed professional engineer and had affixed his signature to the report, the firm did not question the accuracy of that document.

A contractor who had been given the report called the firm after he had taken a backhoe to the site for further investigation. The contractor stated that the report did not match the site conditions. A member of the engineering firm went to the site and found no evidence that borings had been made and, what is more, that the entire area was of volcanic rock.

The state licensing board held a hearing to investigate the matter. The administrative law judge stated in the order that the engineer's "testimony displayed an alarming lack of knowledge of basic engineering." The engineer admitted putting "hypothetical" data in his report. The judge found that" no probationary terms could correct the dishonesty and misrepresentations which he apparently believes are his prerogative because he has an engineering license."

The judge ruled that the engineer's license should be revoked.


Was it a violation of ASCE's Code of Ethics for the engineer to falsify his report?


Yes. The guidelines to practice in category (a) of canon 2 read as follows: "Engineers shall undertake to perform engineering assignments only when qualified by education or experience in the technical field of engineering involved." Further, the guidelines in category (b) of canon 3 have this to say: "Engineers shall be objective and truthful in professional reports, statements, or testimony. They shall include all relevant and pertinent information in such reports, statements or testimony." Finally, canon 6 sets the following standard: "Engineers shall act in such a manner as to uphold and enhance the honor, integrity, and dignity of the engineering profession."

After investigating the matter, the Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC) determined that the engineer had violated canons 2, 3, and 6 of the Code of Ethics. It recommended that the engineer be expelled from membership and that his name and an account of the incident be published in ASCE News.  However, the engineer tendered his resignation from the Society before the matter went to the Board of Direction. The CPC recommended to the board that the resignation be accepted with prejudice and that notice of the circumstances of the resignation be published in an official Society publication. The Board of Direction accepted the resignation with prejudice and voted that the circumstances of the resignation be published in ASCENews.

© ASCE, ASCE News, March, 2006