EXACTLY, WELL SAID !
Santa Clara, CA
Sent: Friday, August 01, 2003 8:22
Having started (I guess) the thread
on political favoritism, I guess I should say something. Although
it would seem most people would have something better to do than read my
The fact that political favoritism is endemic does not mean that I have to
approve of it. And no, I am not naive. I live in DC. Many of
the people I know are political lobbyists, of one degree or another. I
could bore everybody with discussions of why there is federal funding for
concrete pavements but not concrete bridges. Why such huge amounts of
money have been spent on asphalt pavements (easy answer - the asphalt industry
has a very strong lobby, they need to get rid of what is essentially a waste
product.) Another interesting subject: why the silica
fume association ended up with a big chunk of federal money.
Anything to do with federal appropriations tend to have lots of zeroes at the
end. These decisions can ultimately have significant impacts on the
engineering and construction communities.
With respect to why engineers "don't get any respect", it's
generally because no one knows what they do. I can't see that chatting
with politicians at fund raisers is a why to earn respect. As I remember
from the previous round of posts, the chatting with politicians was so that
they remembered your firm's name when a new sewer was going to get put in.
And I'm not sure what the comments about fire stations versus homeless shelters
had to do with anything. DC has both - whether there is one or the other
may be a function of community involvement and lobbying and vested interests,
but usually it involves proving or disproving the merits of one or the other.
The media has a field day when a firm which has been actively involved in
the decision for something to be built is then awarded a contract, unless it is
very obvious they deserved it.
Political favoritism, in all its forms, is a favorite topic of the media which
leads me to believe that maybe others don't approve of it either. The
Boston Globe for example has had several articles discussing the fact that the
current Senate leader has said he will need to cut jobs because the previous
Senate leader spent so much on "temporary jobs" - a euphemism for
discretionary handouts. Yet it points out the current Senate leader
has awarded "temporary jobs" to his niece, his neighbor and a 78-year
old skate club coach that worked on his campaign. There were others I can't
remember, these stood out.
On his last day in office, the previous Senate leader without having to seek
any kind of authorization, handed out $214,000 to key staffers who, having used
comp time for vacation time, had huge amounts of accrued vacation time.
Once this was made public, the Senate leader's ability to do this
was revoked and a limit was set on accrued vacation time.
The Miami papers a couple of months ago had articles about a 71-year old man
who, after causing an accident where two people were seriously injured was
arrested for having twice the legal limit for alcohol. The papers noted
the man had a $38,000 a year job as a "part-time director" of the
Illinois Toll Road. The papers also noted that the man's brother was
chairman of the Democratic Committee in Dupage County. Dupage County
being a county through which the Toll Road goes.
In general I would think that structural engineers do not get jobs by political
favoritism. They get jobs by convincing the architect and owner they can
do the work. Price may or may not be a factor, depending on the project.
In DC and Chicago, consulting firms actively engage in "measures of
goodwill" such as taking clients to hockey games. I don't think an
architect is ever going to choose an engineer unless they are certain of their
qualifications though; an unqualified engineer can ruin the project for
everyone. I'm not sure hockey tickets would ever be the swing vote.
My personal opinion, those who advertise their support for things
like "women's business enterprises" and "minority
businesses", often associated with political issues, are either
demonstrating their own naivitie or using it somehow to their benefit. I think
such initiatives in general benefit a very few, and generally not those they
were intended for. Look at the web page for almost any WBE certified
firm. The president will be female. One of the other principals
will be her husband; all of the other principals will also be male.
Minority business set-asides can be huge and are often multi-year contracts.
Yet once the minority individual has gotten the contracts, there is
nothing to stop him or her from selling his company to TRW. The price
tags are in the seven or eight figures.
With respect to salaries: in the DC area, the starting salary for
"someone sharp" right out of school with a master's is about
$45,000. The salary for someone with 20 years of experience and a P.E.
is about $85,000. There are very few jobs in DC that pay less than
engineering. Most engineers currently looking to buy a house cannot
afford anything "within the beltway". A two-bedroom dump in
Bethesda is at least $500,000. Within the city itself, a neighborhood
where you feel safe starts at
$300,000 for a
"live-in fixer upper". Translation: there has been
absolutely no repairs or maintenance for 30 years.
I think most people go into engineering because they consider it interesting,
challenging, and satisfying. Respect for their work is something they
earn by demonstrating competence. On a broader scale, respect is
earned by being able to clearly articulate and explain issues so that others
can understand them. An education that helps do this means a lot.
I don't really have any strong opinions on education though since I
can't really remember what I was or wasn't required to take. Although I
do remember I took a lot of my electives in plant pathology.