Discussion Thread

Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

  • 1.  Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 19 days ago
    Do you have a question about an ethical situation? You're invited to participate in an ethics workshop in ASCE Career by Design. All submitted questions will be reviewed by ethics experts and receive a response by October 20 on this thread. Click reply to submit your question. 

    For this event, we have temporarily enabled the "Post Anonymously" feature so you can anonymously post your question.  

    Quick reminder: All questions must comply with the ASCE Collaborate Code of Conduct

    I look forward to hearing from you! 

    ****This event is for ASCE members only. You can join ASCE here.

    Read the experts bios here.

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    Tirza Austin
    Manager, Online Community
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive
    Reston, VA 20191
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  • 2.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 17 days ago
    I'll pose a question to help get the discussion started. What are some common ethical dilemmas that new civil engineering professionals may face?

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    Steve Starrett Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.EWRI, F.ASCE
    ASSOCIATE PROF
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  • 3.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 17 days ago
    Thanks, @Tirza Austin for starting this thread - ​Looking at the ASCE's ethics page (https://www.asce.org/ethics/ ) it appears that the ASCE board of direction will be voting on the proposed new code of ethics later this month.

    If approved, what are the next steps? How and when does this effect trickle down to the section/branch level?

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    Danielle Schroeder EIT, A.M.ASCE (She/her)
    Associate Engineer
    Pennoni Associates
    Philadelphia PA
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  • 4.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 17 days ago
    Danielle,

    Great question.  Thank you for bringing that up.

    I serve as the Chair of the ASCE Task Committee on the Code of Ethics.  Per the governing documents of ASCE, when a substantial item is up for discussion and approval by the Board of Direction that item must appear on the agenda for two consecutive Board Meetings.  The proposed Code of Ethics was on the agenda for the July Board meeting and the Board approved the proposed Code on First Reading.  The Code is on the agenda for the upcoming October meeting.  It will be discussed and voted on for Second Reading at that time.  If the Board approves the proposed Code in October, it would official go into effect at that time.

    That would be the end of two years of significant outreach and engagement activities by the Task Committee on the Code of Ethics.  The process used in developing the Proposed Code of Ethics has been rigorous, thorough, thoughtful, and consensus-building.

    I hope that addresses your question.
    Regards
    Brock

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    Brock Barry Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE
    Professor of Engineering Education
    Salisbury Mills NY
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  • 5.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 17 days ago
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    For public projects, there are typically restrictions and systems in place to prevent corruption. This would include things like open bids, having to select the most cost effective bidder that is not disqualified for a legitimate reason, etc.

    On the private side, there is much more freedom in the selection of bidders. When, as professionals, we are asked by a developer if we have any consultant or contractor recommendations, are there any sort of suggested guidelines to follow?

    For example,
    Do you give them your buddy's name even if he probably isn't the lowest price? Is that only okay if you disclose that you are recommending them because you like working with them?
    Is it okay to say who you wouldn't recommend because of previous poor experiences? Where is the line on too much information in a warning?


  • 6.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 16 days ago
    Very insightful question. I think it is wise for developers to ask the engineers if they have any recommendations regarding contractors for specific work. A successfully built project is good for the developer, engineer, contractor and clients. Previously developing solid working relationships between engineer and contractor is always a benefit for the current project being constructed. As long as no Conflict of Interest (i.e., compensation, trips or significant gifts, the contractor is a relative) exists, or is communicated clearly to the developer, then I think it is totally fine to make truthful recommendations to the developer that are based on past experiences. It is a bit dicier on the who you wouldn't recommend. I suggest keeping with the facts, we worked with contractor A on a project and these undesirable aspects happened on that specific project. Of course, the decision rests with the developer. He or she may accept recommendations or go in a totally different direction.

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    Steve Starrett Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.EWRI, F.ASCE
    ASSOCIATE PROF
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  • 7.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 17 days ago
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    Background info:
    I work for a consulting firm that frequently designs privately funded public infrastructure.
    There are some people that are reviewing our plans on the municipal side that do not properly understand the theories behind hydrology/hydraulic design. For example, one reviewer likes to use the restrictions on times of concentrations from one formula and the coefficient ranges from another formula. This is not a good practice, and he is not the one sealing the plans.

    While I would never sign and seal a design that will not work, where is the ethical line when it comes to changing values to something that is "incorrect" to get plans approved?


  • 8.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 15 days ago
    This is a tough one. Throughout my career I've worked on both sides of this discussion.   Having worked in several public agencies as a reviewer, we were always careful to remember that our role was to review submittals to assure that they met the code requirements of the local governing body.  We were not there to design or to direct those making submittals on how to do a design.  The example you pose would fit the appearance of the reviewer telling how the design, or in this case the calculations for the design, should be done.  Unless the reviewer can clearly state that the materials presented are in error, their comments should be restricted to code requirements.  If however, the agency that you are working with maintains the position you pose in your question, you don't have many choices.  First, I wouldn't change the values if they are incorrect simply to try to gain approval.  If the agency reviewer is insistent on the remedy that they propose, I would then suggest elevating the discussion to the next level within the agency.  This will usually help both parties to better understand the situation and work toward the proper resolution of the issue.

    Mark Woodson, PE, LS, F.ASCE

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    Mark Woodson P.E.,L.S.,F.ASCE,Pres.16.ASCE
    President/CEO
    Flagstaff AZ
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  • 9.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 17 days ago

    Here's a question I've wondered about. The US has countless bridges, dams, levees, and other safety critical infrastructure in dire need of major repair, upgrading, or replacement. The risks of failure may not always be communicated or appreciated by those in harms way. What is the ethical responsibility of engineers who carry out detailed studies of this infrastructure, usually on behalf of govt authorities, to ensure a clear and unfiltered message gets out to the public?



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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 10.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 11 days ago
    Good question. I know many engineers have faced this type of situation. Of course, each situation is a little different and an engineer must use judgment on how much risk is increased because of the poor condition. I feel strongly that following the chain-of-command properly is critical to resolving urgent repairs. The easiest situation is when the lowest level of authority agrees with the engineer on urgency. The situation gets harder with each level of authority that disagrees with engineer on urgency of repairs needed. As a last resort, "blowing the whistle" may be needed and even then the public may not see the urgency like the engineer does. I know of a situation where wooden piers were literally hanging from the bridge (rotted all the way through at the ground) and some from the public still wouldn't accept about a 30-minute detour around bridge, and would discard barrier into ditch and drive across the dilapidated bridge. There is no easy answer to these situations.

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    Steve Starrett Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.EWRI, F.ASCE
    ASSOCIATE PROF
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  • 11.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 15 days ago
    Not sure if this question can be categorized as an ethical situation but I was wondering about the case where one works for an engineering firm and have his/her own company dong similar consulting work. How does it work without causing conflict of interest? Thank you!  


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    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA
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  • 12.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 15 days ago
    This largely depends on the main company's policy. Some companies have an absolute "no moonlighting" policy, while others allow it as long as the following criteria are met (this is not an exhaustive list - just the main points):
    1. The employee's side business does not prevent the employee from doing their main job to their fullest ability. This includes time theft, like taking calls for the side business during working hours at the main company. 
    2. The main company's equipment and assets (software/software licenses, etc.) are not used for the side job in any way, shape, or form. 
    3. The side job does not take away business or potential business from the main company. This can be an issue if the main company is nationwide/global because no matter what area the job is for, you could be potentially taking away business from the main company.
    4. The side business must be at least partially owned by you. You cannot work two full time jobs at different companies.
    Basically, if your company allows moonlighting, you must do it on your own time with your own equipment, software, and premises (your house most likely) and it must not impede your ability to do your main job with them. Ethically, you should inform your company that you wish to do this whether the policy requires that you tell them or not. It is absolutely unethical for someone to moonlight if their main company's policy prohibits it.

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    Maegan Nunley P.E., M.ASCE
    President
    Luna Engineering
    Columbus OH
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  • 13.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 11 days ago
    Well said Maegan Nunley.

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    Steve Starrett Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.EWRI, F.ASCE
    ASSOCIATE PROF
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  • 14.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 11 days ago
    That is certainly an ethical dilemma. "Moonlighting" has long been frowned upon in engineering and can be done very poorly (i.e., unethically).  Certainly, when all parties agree to arrangements, are aware of all the relationships, then it can be fine for an engineer to have numerous employments. The best case is when a self-employed engineer starts employment with a consulting firm with a clear understanding by both that self-employment jobs will continue. The worst case is when an employer doesn't know an engineer is taking jobs on the side, using company facilities and equipment, doing private jobs while on the clock for employer, and even redirects projects from employer to private company. Considering your question more directly, I think it can work with extremely clear, in writing, communications regarding all employment relationships and how COI will be avoided. Transparency of self-employment projects would also promote how this type of arrangement could be okay.

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    Steve Starrett Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, F.EWRI, F.ASCE
    ASSOCIATE PROF
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  • 15.  RE: Asking For A Friend: Ethics Workshop

    Posted 14 days ago
    Thank you to everyone who participated in this discussion! This thread is now closed. @Steve Starrett, @Brock Barry, and @Mark Woodson will respond to any outstanding questions by Monday, October 19.

    If you are interested in exploring ethics more, ASCE is hosting an ethics webinar on November 5. You can register here. ​​​

    Thank you all again for your participation in this important topic!

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    Tirza Austin
    Manager, Online Community
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive
    Reston, VA 20191
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