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Engineers-surveyors board scrutinized during PEER review

The Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors recently underwent an extensive review by the state Performance Evaluation Expenditure Review (PEER) Committee. While some recommendations were made for improvements, overall the board passed with flying colors.

Max Arinder, executive director of the PEER Committee, said the Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors underwent what is called a “cycle review.” That means it was randomly selected for review instead of there being any specific complaints or allegations of misconduct.

“Overall the positive thing is that the committee found the board is fulfilling its missions,” Arinder said. “It does insure that we have competent, well-trained engineers and land surveyors serving Mississippi. They insure professional competency in a number of ways such as national licensure evaluation tests. The board requires completion of an array of continuing education courses to assure engineers and land surveyors stay relevant to assure continued competencies.”

The PEER report did find that the board has not properly validated its test of knowledge of state laws, rules and regulations for engineering and land surveying. Arinder said the board concurred with the findings and is taking necessary steps to address that deficiency.

“The other thing we found was that the board does have a thorough and comprehensive complaint and disciplinary process,” he said. “The board can investigate and take necessary disciplinary action. But there were a few exceptions where the board used penalties in consent orders that were not authorized by state law. The board acknowledges that problem and has agreed to take appropriate steps to address that. They wish to have the statute amended to give them additional latitude. The penalties weren’t all that onerous. There were just not authorized by current statute.”
According to the PEER Committee, the nature of the practice of engineering and land surveying presents risks to the public if practitioners are not properly trained and regulated. Inadequate or erroneous engineering knowledge as the basis for constructing buildings or systems puts human life and health directly at risk. Widespread land surveying inaccuracies could engage enormous judicial resources and time to remedy. Thus, state regulation of the engineering and land surveying professions is necessary to reduce or eliminate risks to the public.

Arinder said the bottom line is that the PEER Committee found this to be a well-managed oversight board.

“The business of professional oversight is serious,” Arinder said. “That is why the committee authorizes a review periodically to make sure they are carrying out their responsibilities. You regulate to protect the public. In this case, we found the procedures for licensing these individuals are well managed. In the case of engineers and land surveyors, we found they are exercising their authority property. They are to be applauded for taking the responsibility seriously, and carrying it out.”

Rosemary Brister, executive director, Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, was pleased with the results of the PEER report.

“It was a very detailed review with lots of questions and requests for documentation,” Brister said. “It is thorough. We were very pleased with what they recommended. Several of the recommendations regarded things we were aware of, and had either already made corrections or had them planned. It was gratifying to us in that we were thinking along the same lines in areas that need improvement.”

One recommendation regarded upgrading the Mississippi Section Exam to require more testing of the knowledge of state laws governing surveying. The last two hours of total 16 hours of exams covers Mississippi law, rules and regulations. Another recommendation was publishing the results of disciplinary actions for surveyors and engineers in the board’s newsletter.

Brister said the board takes its job seriously, and strives to take advantage of every new technology that helps them control operating costs.

“Also, we are always looking at new areas of regulations or new issues that come forward so we can develop a plan of action before it hits there,” she said. “We get a lot of that by participating in the national organization, the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors, which helps anticipate new technologies in both professions and new ways to provide effective oversight.”

For example, design-build is a new way to do engineering and surveying projects. Designers are also involved in building projects.

“That may present areas for regulation that could be a problem in potential conflicts of interest when the designer is also the builder,” Brister said. “The board has to be involved to make sure the public is protected, and the code of ethics is being upheld.”

Technology in the professions has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. Brister points out that GIS (geographic information systems) and GPS (global positioning system) weren’t even in use 20 years ago and now are critical tools to surveying.

“When you are using GIS technology to define boundaries, that is surveying,” Brister said. “ That technology has set the profession on its ears. Now we are getting into computer-engineered design. The technologies of both professions are constantly changing, so our board has to be very ready to take care of it, regulate it, and protect the public.”

License fees fund board’s activities

And the board has been able to accomplish that without any support from taxpayers; funding comes from license fees. And, in fact, some of the board’s funds have transferred to help make up state budget shortfalls. Although the law states that fees paid be used for the mission of the agency only, the Legislature has required the board to transfer surplus budget contingency funds to shore up the state budget deficit.

“In 2002, they took $500,000,” Brister said. “At that time, that was two-thirds of our contingency funds. And last month they transferred $106,000, which was all the margin we had left. So we are now operating literally at the bone. We have just enough to operate. It is definitely going to be a concern to see what happens in this new budget year.”

Brister said their agency has done its part to keep down costs. In 17 years, the board has not increased the number of employees even though the number of engineers and land surveyors regulated has doubled — meaning a doubling in the number of exams and investigations.

“We have been able to handle the increasing work load by computerizing as much as can, and taking advantage of every efficiency available,” Brister said. “And I have great employees. They work very hard.”

She also said another reason the board has been able to contain costs is that they have general control over operations rather than having business decisions dictated from the outside.

“Because we have been more autonomous, we can make a decision to get the job done faster, better and more efficiently,” Brister said. “It helps when you work with engineers. They study a problem, decide what needs to be done, and then get it done. Engineers are good at efficiency, as well. Surveyors are the same way. Both of these professions have common sense people who don’t beat around the bush. They want to get it done and keep moving.”

Mississippi has an estimated 7,165 professional engineers, 595 professional land surveyors, and 494 dual registrants (engineers who are also land surveyors) on the registry (i.e., licensed in Mississippi).

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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