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RE: Opinions

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Santa Clara, CA


-----Original Message-----
From: GSKWY(--nospam--at) [mailto:GSKWY(--nospam--at)]
Sent: Friday, August 01, 2003 8:22 AM
To: Seaint(--nospam--at)
Subject: Opinions


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 opinions.

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.

Gail Kelley