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Re: California State Employees' Initiative

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MJSLAYSMAN wrote:

> Nigel:
>
> I did say "as I see it", however, whether I have 20/20 vision or I am blind
> the question of responsibility still has not been addressed.  Who signs the
> plans?  Who is personally responsible?  Who takes the heat if there is a
> problem?  If the public is damaged whom do they sue?  We may not like it at
> times but there is right of redress for damaged parties through the courts.
> If my little girls is hurt because of a designer's negligence can I sue the
> state?  These issues need addressing and these are only the liability issues.

Injured parties can, and do, sue the state.  They do it all the time, and it may
be the myopea of a subjective view, but it looks from the inside of government
that they can sue successfully often on the flimsiest of cases *because* we're the
government.  We're the Big Bad Guys out to destroy civilization and all of its
residents, so we normally start out in a weak position going into a courtroom,
regardless of the evidence.  Juries don't like government, and they don't seem to
make the connection between their own tax payments and the awards they offer
plaintiffs.

In the DOT where I work, the Bridge Engineer stamps and signs bridge plans, the
Road Design Engineer stamps and signs the road plans.

> Will the state be required to show a profit?  How much of a loss can they
> operate on?  Private sector engineering firms can only operate at a loss for a
> limited time and they are out of the market.  Will the same hold true for
> public design departments?  I cannot see how this will save any money unless
> the state employees will be working with less benifits than in the private
> sector.  Softeware, computers, office space and insurances still have a cost

In many state governments, the state engineers work for considerably less pay than
in private industry.  Consultant firms in this state got the legislature to hire
an outside consulting firm (no bias there! :-) to analyze our costs of plans
production, and they included all those costs you mention.  The conclusion of
their study was that we do produce plans more cheaply, primarily because our
salaries are so low.

Also, in recent testimony (January, 1998) before a state House subcommittee, one
of our consultants stood up and said that of course consultants' costs were
higher, because they had to keep up their country club memberships as a cost of
doing business.  Dang!  I wonder if the taxpayers would buy *me* a membership like
that?

> even if you don't include them in the equation of how you (not you personally)
> reach the final design cost figure.
>
> I don't really know where you stand on this issue.  That is not important, but

Where do I stand?  I'm militantly ambivalent.  I can tell you from my experience
that the plans I typically see from consultants come in weeks or months late,
significantly lower in quality than the ones we generate, and at a cost that
ranges as high as four times what it costs us to produce, and they often generate
a lot of very expensive problems during construction due to a checking process
that's substantially less rigorous than ours; costs that the taxpayers wind up
eating.  We have to listen to consultants bashing us in the press (with comments
similar to your earlier ones), bashing us at engineering conferences, even bashing
us in the professional organizations to which we, also, belong (Civil Engineering,
the ASCE house rag, did a fine job on us in the February issue), and then, for the
last six years, bashing us in the state legislature in a continuous attempt to
force the DOT to take our jobs away and turn all design work over to consultants.
And if any of us should have the temerity to stand up and defend ourselves, all
hell breaks loose.  We're then just self-serving public parasites trying merely to
protect our jobs.  We're never given credit for trying to get the taxpayer the
best his money can buy.  Those experiences evoke a lot of sympathy in me for the
California government engineers' position.

On the other hand, I don't believe it has to be, or should be that way.  I worked
(in a former life) for a national consulting firm that turned out quality work, so
I know it's out there.  In fact that experience has made it hard to credit some of
the work I've seen come across my desk in my gummint incarnation.  I believe in
our profession and that we can and should do things better, and I believe the
primal requirement for that is Qualifications Based Selection (QBS).  If the
California initiative passes, QBS goes right out the window, and in my opinion,
our standing as a profession goes with it.  That leaves me with strong sympathy
for the consultants' opposition to the proposal.

Where do I stand?  I don't know.  I really don't know.  I don't see any way out of
this mess.  I wish, for the profession's sake, that the whole godawful mess had
never started.  I wish that when the California Society of Professional Engineers
tried to bring both sides together to work out a compromise, both sides had
recognized the damage they're doing to the profession and agreed to some middle
ground instead of both sides refusing to give an inch.  And finally (yes, there is
an end to this:-) I wish that consultants would try to recognize that government
engineers can be quite competent, too, even, heaven forfend, *as* competent as
consultant engineers, and that we should all work together for the good of our
profession.  That would benefit all of us, where this horrible public relations
disaster is just going to take us all down.

> I wish SOMEBODY would explain this to me and take a stab at answering my
> questions.

Well, there you go.  I'm sure I'll get flamed BIG time for this one, but you got
at least some answers, even if they are from someone who knows exactly zero about
the situation in California.

Nigel