Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

By , on June 20, 2010

Current Events, Opinion

Washington, similar to most states, has several qualifications that must be met to become a licensed engineer. This allows the engineer to use the P.E. designation following his or her name. The typical path to acquiring a license is:

  • Graduation from a properly accredited college or university with a four year baccalaureate degree in engineering.
  • Passing the Fundamentals or the Engineer-in-Training examination. This is a thorough exam that covers almost all courses taken by engineers during their college career. This is a test that rewards the student who studied hard in every course and causes night sweats and trepidation for the student who performed marginally in particular subject areas or during particular times in their college career. It is an extremely difficult exam for those not well-grounded in mathematics, physics, materials, electronics, logic, thermodynamics and a host of other topics necessary for a well-rounded engineer (Is that an oxymoron?).
  • Several years experience working in engineering under the supervision of a licensed engineer.
  • Passing an ethics examination. This is an easy, open-book test. The idea is that the exam requires the student to read the ethical rules and comprehend them in order to pass.
  • Passing the professional exam. This test focuses on actual practice areas, and favors those engineers who have been designing in a wide breadth of topics within their particular field. It is more difficult for those not given good experience by the licensed person for whom they have worked.

Our Board will vote in September on a rule allowing engineers licensed in Canada to become licensed in Washington through an abbreviated process, called comity. I am not sure of licensing practices in nine of the ten provinces nor in the three Canadian territories. However, this rule, if passed, will allow British Columbia engineers to become licensed in Washington without taking any examination at all pertaining to the science and technology of engineering. British Columbia grants their licenses following successfully passing an ethics exam; there are no other examinations required.

Not only is the Board considering a rule that essentially undermines the licensing structure that has existed for roughly 80 years, it failed to notify the present licensees of the key fact that British Columbia does not examine for engineering skills, knowledge and ability.

Several engineers caught wind of what’s occurring. I learned of what was transpiring from them. All the engineers I have spoken with are opposed to the proposed rule and are writing letters to the Board. If you read this prior to the next Board meeting in September 2010, please express your views using a short e-mail message addressed to: Engineers@dol.wa.gov

As you write the Board, please remember the purpose of licensing engineers. It is to protect public safety, not to protect the income of engineers by limiting competition. It is important to make clear to the Board, whether you are a licensed engineer or someone who may have avoided harm as a result of good engineering practice, to make clear that you oppose the rule for public safety reasons. Granting licenses to engineers who have never been subjected to the rigors of an examination is not prudent.


4 Comments to “Opposition to Proposed Comity Rule of the Washington Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors”

  1. Roger Kitchin says:

    Interesting. It is a pity that you did not research the Canadia process. First, the purpose of licensing engineers is the same in both countries and I fail to understand why the Canadian system would compromise public safety in the US. Are you suggesting that there is a higher incident of engineering failures in Canada compares with the US? If you are, what is the source of your information?

    The licensing processes are not different in that Canadian engineers do not need to take examinations but rather where those examinations are held. The Provincial associations work with universities to ensure that their programs and examinations result in graduates that have the required knowledge. Why test again when graduates of approved courses have already demonstrated sufficient technical knowledge?

  2. admin says:


    There is no information in your comment that indicates an error in my post; apparently my research was not too bad. There is a difference between the British Columbia model of a final exam in an engineering course versus the State of Washington principles and practices exam administered after years of experience. In addition, the fundamentals exam is yet another exam administered in Washington for which there is no comparable British Columbia examination. Those of you advocating the new rule should carry the burden of proving that the Canadian engineering education is sufficiently superior to an accredited American education to support the rule.

    As to a comparison of engineering failures between the two jurisdictions, I agree the rule proponents should cite comprehensive studies showing that there is no difference. Such a study would be difficult because of non-disclosure agreements, which are a common feature of settlement agreements in the United States.


  3. Kristin says:

    Thank you for your analysis, Rich. I read the position paper published by the rule proponents, and within it, they stated that their intention was to increase competition for engineering work in Washington State. As you assert, the foundation of engineering ethics is public safety, and not economic benefit. Fortunately, the rule did not succeed; however, engineers here in Washington are on notice for another such proposal, as the Board was fighting for it in 2010.
    A supporting sideline: I work with an engineer who is licensed in both Canada and Washington. He was also against the proposed ruling for the same reasons as all other Washington engineers–it is in direct opposition to the Washington State engineering ethics statues.

  4. Gary Braaksma says:

    In Washington State, obtaining Engineering Licensure is a major career decision with substantial consequence for professional liability. Depending on type of work, many Washington engineers do not pursue licensure, for example it is estimated that only 10% of electrical engineers are licensed within the state.

    That most Canadian engineers (who are ALL licensed in Canada) are not aware of this consideration is ample evidence they are not prepared to assume the full responsibility of professional licensing within Washington State.

    This observation is supported by experience among some of us who have worked on both sides of the Canadian border: Canadian Engineers may be technically competent but the culture does not generally include similar professional responsibility. Ironically the preparing for and passing the PE examination does a good job of normalizing expectations.

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