Reconnaissance: Protecting the Public?

Several years ago, a committee established by the Indiana Legislature at Governor Pence’s request determined in its preliminary findings that licensure of surveyors and engineers was unnecessary.

Among other ill-informed bases for the surveyor-related conclusion was that “[t]here is very little established harm to consumers that has been documented under this profession.” This despite the documented fact that the Indiana Board of Registration had, over the previous 8 years or so, sanctioned around 40 Professional(?) Surveyors (out of roughly 800 licensees) with warning letters, financial penalties, probationary orders, suspensions, and revocations.

At least we can all rest easy because the committee also concluded that “[w] ith additions of new technology the risk to consumers will continue to decrease.” That is supposed to be comforting?! Conscientious surveyors know that with new technologies the risk to consumers will, in fact, increase dramatically.

That same committee decided that engineering licensure was unnecessary because “[i]n order to practice in this profession, it is the industry standard for the individual to have a degree from an accredited university. The public is protected in that plans are reviewed before construction can begin, and buildings are inspected by local officials before they can be occupied.”

No doubt every one of us is reassured that a local bureaucrat has reviewed the engineering plans and the local inspector has declared a building suitable for occupancy. That committee’s effort eventually failed, but a number of other states (you know who you are) have undergone similar, albeit (at least in some cases) less draconian, attempts at delicensing. Understand, however, that this is only the beginning—it will be a continual battle from here on out.

In the meantime, there are also notunrelated legislative efforts to throttle, if not eliminate, the ability for boards, commissions and agencies all across the country to adopt or modify regulations.

While we can all agree that there far are too many unnecessary regulations, the regulatory process is necessary and important. Think about the ability for candidates for licensure to take on-line licensing exams. That likely could not happen in most states without regulatory changes. In addition, in most states, standards, ethics rules and rules of professional conduct are not found in statutes, they are found in regulations. I cannot imagine what that recent 1000 page tax “reform” bill would have looked like if Congress had included all of the details that regulations otherwise fill in.

It is not a coincidence that these proposals are rearing their heads all over the country. This is part of a concerted effort by certain national organizations with innocuous, patriotic-sounding names to eliminate licensure and regulations because they are supposedly impediments to people getting a job in professional careers. Model acts with that aim in mind are easily found in Google searches. There is fertile ground in many state legislatures for these initiatives despite the fact that the United States is essentially at full employment and there are as many jobs out there as there are people looking for them.

Along the same lines, the original concept of standardized testing in schools was to be able to provide more targeted, personalized instruction to students in need. Some states, however, decided that these tests should be used to grade teachers and schools, rather than students. This degrading insult to most teachers is counterproductive since the smart teacher is not going to want to teach difficult subjects or difficult students—yet that’s exactly what is needed.

Enter a teacher shortage—exacerbated by demographics. The solution to this unintended consequence? Kill two birds with one stone! Allow the person with no substantive training or education in teaching to get a job as a teacher so he or she won’t otherwise be on the unemployment role. At the same time, let’s essentially eliminate that pesky requirement that teachers actually have some credentials to teach our kids.

The focus in these efforts would appear to be on simply getting people into a profession. Competency is not a concern because, they say, the market will eliminate the incompetent practitioners.

That strategy likely worked out well in that collapsed bridge tragedy in Florida a few months ago. I’ll bet none of the six people killed will hire that firm again. And how long can it take for a horrible boundary survey to be revealed?

Beware, however—the “jobs” excuse is a deceptively simple explanation; it really has to do with throttling government across the board. Deregulation and tax/budget-cutting efforts are sexy, crowd-pleasing, tempting panaceas. Do not be lulled by these purposely deceptive sound bites. The time for easy solutions to difficult problems is long past.

Unfortunately, too many of us are more than happy to have the ox gored these days … as long as it’s not ours.

About the Author

Gary Kent, PS

Gary Kent has been a professional surveyor with Schneider Geomatics since 1983 and is also owner of Meridian Land Consulting, LLC. He has chaired the joint ALTA/NSPS Committee on the Land Title Survey standards since 1995. He also sits on the Indiana State Board of Registration and lectures nationally.