Who is the top engineer of all of New York City? The answer is no one. What single, high-level licensed design professional consistently has Mayor Michael Bloomberg�s ear on schools, roads and water supply. Again, that person doesn�t exist.
Salvatore Galletta wants New York City to hire someone to do that job from an office in City Hall.
Galletta is a short, amiable man with a mustache and he is also an engineer in the engineering audit office of New York City�s Department of Transportation. He is an active member of the National Society of Professional Engineers and a co-founder of the American Engineering Alliance, a relatively new association at ten years of age. For several years he would call me and talk my ear off about the need for engineers to regain the respect of society and influence in the world. Public works agencies should always be headed by P.E.�s, he said. Too many visas for foreign-born engineers would further depress engineers� already low status in the U.S., he warned. I would listen patiently, chime in with my agreement, shake my head at the predicament. Then I had to get back to work.
Galletta and one of his co-founders of the AEA, Louis Comunelli, a project manager with LiRo Engineers Inc. in New York City, also championed the cause of Ed Turner, the Idaho Falls engineer who fought the city over the issue of responsible charge. But AEA�s membership never took off. Galletta initially thought that by charging low membership fees and getting word out the association would grow, but the assumption �did not come true,� he writes in the recent issue of the AEA newsletter.
AEA may still be small, but its members have again done something worth noting. On March 22, a member of the New York City Council introduced a resolution calling on Mayor Bloomberg to create a position of Deputy Mayor for Infrastructure and to staff it with a professional engineer or licensed architect. AEA started the push for the resolution and other engineering societies and architectural associations are on board and pushing, too. Galletta urges everyone to contact the members of the City Council and the mayor to adopt the measure and to find targets for your messages here or here. You can also contact Comunelli at 718-636-9237 or 718-782-0268 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The idea basically is that no one in the vast city takes the broad view of all of its infrastructure�roads, schools, water quality--and that a licensed professional is best qualified to do that. Hearings will probably be held by the City Council�s committee on government operations, a rare opportunity for the subject to be discussed in public. After review, the committee will decide whether or not to recommend a vote by the full council, says Comunelli.
AEA�s newsletter is full of the rallying exhortations that its founders hope will inspire more professional pride. �Those of you who want to be �nobody� will ignore this call,� Comunelli writes. �Those of you that want to be �somebody�, who will take that �little step of faith,� will not regret it.�
I�ve never put much stock in the call to action that Galletta and Comunelli embrace in their rhetoric, but I also credit them with persistence and concrete accomplishments. It�s good to see other groups putting energy into their initiative.
They are not the only ones in the profession pondering the pay and respect gap between engineers, on the one hand, and attorneys and physicians, on the other, in the U.S. Some of the wonderful American Society of Civil Engineers journals sound the same theme. The most recent, �Some Thoughts on Why Doctors Are Considered Professionals and Engineers Are Not,� appears in the April issue of the Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice.
While civil engineers continue to ponder and pain over lost stature, there is one sentence I very badly want to hear spoken: �Go into engineering for the money.�
Take a look at this week�s cover story in ENR on turnover costs. With the pace of work heating up, starting salaries for civil engineers are way over $50,000 in many markets and veteran engineers with eight to 15 years of experience are seeing $90,000 to $120,000. Top people and firm partners can get $150,000.
Let�s at least admit that personal gain and wealth are legitimate goals for an engineer. Which is why I�m wondering about all the worry over the decline of engineering as a profession, especially compared to medicine and law.
Every year that goes by produces more angst and examination and pledges to reverse what everyone generally agrees is a decline in stature and pay for civil engineers. I have another cure for all the well-justified moanin� and groanin�. Practice your hallowed profession, adhere to all its ethical postulates, remain abreast of all the theories of structural dynamics and highway drainage codes.
And then do it for the money.