Licensure Mobility: The Next Challenge
About 15 years ago, the idea was hatched within the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying to enhance mobility of licensed engineers among states through what was termed “expedited comity.” This involved providing quick licensure for an engineer with a current “Council Record” from NCEES indicating that the engineer’s qualifications were consistent with the requirements for a “Model Law Engineer.”
The success was nothing short of amazing. It used to take three to six months to obtain a PE license in a new state. In many states now, a Model Law Engineer with a Council Record and with a practice record clean of disciplinary actions can obtain a license within a couple of days. In most, but not all states, such a Model Law Engineer can obtain a license within a couple of weeks. This is one of the finest improvements in engineering licensure in recent decades. It works like a charm.
But, we can do even better.
Many in the engineering profession in the past have argued for “national licensure.” But that idea has a fatal flaw. The federal government has only those powers granted to it under the constitution, and the licensure of professions isn’t one of them. So having the federal government oversee licensure is unconstitutional (and a really bad idea from a number of perspectives anyway). So, states individually have the power and the obligation to the public to regulate professions.
Did you ever wonder why your driver’s license works all over the U.S.? It is because states have inserted provisions in each of their state laws to accept a valid driver’s license from other states. There are protections in place in terms of interstate compacts to ensure that DWI offenders, for example, can’t move from state to state and avoid driving restrictions. Drivers are subject to disciplinary action in the state in which an infraction occurs, and that disciplinary action is reported back to the home state. It works. It’s always worked. And it has been made better in the interest of public safety over the years. It is unimaginable that it would work any other way.
Licensed nurses have formed interstate compacts, which are now accepted by 21 states. Here are the details of the Nurse Licensure Compact. Nurses have implemented a program to enhance mobility that merits careful review.
Such interstate compacts could be formed in engineering. The compact practice rights would likely apply only to duly licensed engineers who are Model Law Engineers with a current Council Record and are free of disciplinary action in all states. Such an engineer would become licensed in a first state, obtain a Council Record, and then would have practice rights in all states that had passed legislation to participate in the interstate licensure compact. The PE could practice in the new state perhaps after informing the new state, agreeing in writing to adhere to that state’s code of ethics, and passing a state-specific online ethics exam in states that have those. Any disciplinary action in any jurisdiction might automatically remove the enhanced mobility, requiring a full application in any given state in order to practice. Each state would need the ability to independently discipline a “compact model law engineer” in the event of a disciplinary issue arising in that state.
There are details to work out. It would need to work without resulting in any additional risk to public health, safety, and welfare in each participating state.
Some states might see this as a loss of revenue, but it would also result in a lot less work for PE board staff because many out-of-state engineers would not need to be separately licensed and renewed every other year. And for many smaller states, there are more out-of-state licensees than in-state. The revenue loss issue could be a major hurdle. Some, or many, states assess licensure fees that are really more practically described as a source of tax revenue.
Imagine the improvement this would entail for the professional engineer with a national practice. If most states were to join such a compact, that engineer would maintain his or her license in one state, obtain a Council Record, meet that state’s continuing professional competency requirements, and, with minimal online communication, have practice rights in many states without additional licensing or renewal fees.
This could never have worked before the implementation of the expedited comity program for Model Law Engineers. But it could work now. All of the engineers granted practice rights under such a compact arrangement would be professional engineers to whom the PE board would grant practice rights now within a couple of days anyway.
There are variations on this theme that can and need to be thought out.
This is a new concept in engineering licensure. It has been discussed in Idaho, as reported by PE board administrator David L. Curtis, P.E., and similar concepts are beginning to be discussed within NCEES. There is an idea here that could be made to work, and it merits thought.
Meeting this next mobility challenge would be a significant benefit to the engineering profession and the public.
Review and input provided by L. Robert “Larry” Smith, P.E., F.NSPE; Bernard R. Berson, P.E., P.L.S., F.NSPE; Arthur Schwartz, JD, CAE and David L. Curtis, P.E.