US House Bill H.R. 2104 is smokescreen to bypass California voters

H.R. 2104, a bill currently before the U.S. House of Representatives would mandate that only public employees carry out construction inspection functions on all federally funded transportation projects. The bill proposes that such a mandate would identify alleged “conflicts of interest and potential failures to protect public safety and welfare” that might occur if privately employed engineers are given that work.

California’s private engineers vehemently disagree. The whole idea that somehow, all of a sudden, the private engineering firms that can and do perform this work now have ‘conflicts of interest’ or would fall short of ‘providing for public safety’ is ludicrous. Not only is this bill a smoke screen for protecting public union jobs in California and the nation, its premise is based on misinformation which is carefully woven in to the bill.

In fact the entire concept of the bill runs counter to common practices in the industry and is an affront to the high professional standards which California engineers have maintained for decades.

My fellow ACEC California member and engineer Rob Salaber agrees. Rob asks: “Why all of a sudden is the well established system of partnering between the public and private engineering community in question? Simple. At this time of fiscal crisis when everyone is suffering financially, the public unions want all of the work for their members, and U.S. Congressman Bob Filner (D. San Diego) is trying to deliver it to them on a silver platter.”

H.R. 2014 would also directly conflict with Proposition 35, legislation passed by California voters which has withstood two State Supreme Court challenges by California’s public unions since its passage in 2000. At that time, California voters overwhelmingly approved amendment to the California state constitution to give state and local public agencies the choice and authority to use private engineering services, when needed.

Proposition 35 expressly applies to construction services such as inspections as well. It is now regularly used by both state and local agencies to excellent effect to speed up the delivery of badly needed infrastructure projects, including transportation projects. It doesn’t cut corners and it has ensured the continued safety of our citizens.
Numerous surveys of practices in states all around the country demonstrate that the traditional system of using private engineering services is crucial to delivering innovative, on-time and on-budget projects to the public. Allowing only state employees to conduct construction inspection work would slow up the delivery of projects at a time when we desperately need efficiencies, both to keep costs low and deliver projects on time and on budget for minimal disruption to the general public.
America’s private engineers are involved in every phase of every type of transportation
project including planning solutions to reduce congestion, assessing environmental impacts, evaluating and improving the safety and sustainability of roads, bridges and tunnels, designing both simple and complex infrastructure to exceedingly high standards, and, yes, monitoring construction to ensure it complies with approved designs and materials.
This proposed legislation sponsored by U.S. Congressman Bob Filner (D. San Diego) is ill considered, and will result in even greater costs for California taxpayers without any discernible additional value to the state.

Tom Blackburn, Blackburn Consulting
ACEC California President

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