Understanding the difference between state licensing boards and professional organizations

Consider membership in a bona fide professional society, but draw the line when it comes to coping with unreasonableness.

By Heinz P. Bloch, P.E., Process Machinery Consulting

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Please do not confuse state licensing boards and professional organizations. Professional organizations are dedicated to advancing a profession. Among them are SMRP, ASME, AChE, and many others. State licensing boards, such as registration boards for professional engineers, are state agencies which differ from state to state. The former are voluntary; they are usually devoted to providing technology updates, training, and networking among like-minded members. They seek to advance the engineering profession, rather than seek to levy fees to support state budgets. Professional organizations endeavor to strengthen your sense of self-worth, whereas enhancing self-worth does not rank high among the priorities of registration boards for professional engineers in some states or jurisdictions. Moreover and in some instances, state offices are decidedly not the designated agencies for promoting common sense.

Texas is an example of what can happen with state licensing requirements. As of September 2014, my active license (originally issued in 1987) would only be renewed if I got fingerprinted and paid the fingerprinting and background check fees. No such fees are levied by New Jersey, where I obtained my P.E. license in 1966 and have retained it for the past 48 years. The New Jersey Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors probably took into account my age and decided that I had faithfully done my part. So, I am a fee-exempt continuing P.E. in New Jersey.

Regarding Texas and because I live out-of-state, some extra effort and money would be needed to retain my license as an active professional engineer after September 2014. While I would not object to a background check but decided against paying an inflated fee for it, I drew the line at fingerprinting. My fingerprints were obtained by the American Consulate in Munich in 1952, by the U.S. Army in Fort Dix in 1955, and by several departments of motor vehicles since 1953. Although retired medical doctors are probably not required to add “inactive” behind their M.D., a P.E. wishing to indicate unending lifetime professionalism will have to add the designation “inactive” behind the letters P.E. in the state of Texas, unless, of course, he coughs up fingerprinting and background checking fees.

I believe that the above scenarios show the extent to which state licensing boards for engineers do, or do not, support the sense of self-worth some of us have tried very hard to instill in the engineering profession. As licensed and registered professionals, we signed a code of ethics. If state boards want to inquire about our backgrounds, we let them do so. However, asking octogenarians, honorably discharged veterans, and advanced-age, value-adding members of society to now provide fingerprints and pay significant fees for staying on the active P.E. rolls will offend some of us.

Heinz P. Bloch, P.E., is owner of Process Machinery Consulting (www.heinzbloch.com) in Westminster, Colorado, and the author of more than 600 articles and books, including “Pump User’s Handbook — Life Extension” and “Practical Lubrication for Industrial Facilities.” His work has been translated into five foreign languages, and Bloch has seven machinery-related patents to his credit. He is an ASME Life Fellow and was one of the original Texas A&M University Pump Advisory board members.

For now I have asked the Texas Board to place me on inactive status until Sept. 30, 2015. At that time, I’ll ask them to drop me from their roster, which saves me paying $40 per year. l well realize that unless I place “inactive” behind the letters P.E., I will run afoul of Texas law. Perhaps I’m already running afoul of Texas law by actively informing readers of my recommendation: As a value-adding professional person, consider membership in a bona fide professional society, but draw the line when it comes to coping with unreasonableness. Consider calling yourself holder of a BSME, or MSME — whatever it is that you have earned.

Of course, if you must approve documents with a state P.E. stamp imprint and are the only employee in your organization designated to affix this stamp, you must comply with state board rules and regulations. However, if you work as a professional and your employer has someone else who can verify your work product and can affix his or her stamp, let that employee do it. If you merely seek the prestige and satisfaction of being a P.E. in some jurisdictions, you may ask yourself if “P.E.” compromises your principles or is really worth the trouble. Make an informed choice and question any entity that requires life-time professionals to call themselves “inactive.”

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