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  • 1.  PE References for Licensure

    Posted 03-11-2024 10:01 AM

    State licensure boards require references from other PEs for new applicants' listed experience.  Does anyone know what legal weight is associated with being a PE reference?  Are references vetted?  Could they be held liable for a new licensee?

    Christian Parker P.E., M.ASCE
    Structural Project Engineer
    Chicago IL

  • 2.  RE: PE References for Licensure

    Posted 03-13-2024 11:54 AM

    Hi Christian,

    Very interesting question.

    Actually, in my years this is the first time it surfaced.

    A. Ask the very same questions to your attorney;

    and perhaps to your State Board.



    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 3.  RE: PE References for Licensure

    Posted 03-14-2024 10:14 AM

    My initial reaction was that a reference probably doesn't create a legal liability. My second thought was that you can sue anyone for anything, so I looked for what a PE recommendation actually says. This Texas form is typical of those I have filled out.

    It would be good to ask ASCE's Counsel to speak to this.

    Bill Mc


    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., BC.CE, BC.NE, F.ASCE
    Columbus MS

  • 4.  RE: PE References for Licensure

    Posted 03-17-2024 10:33 PM

    I agree with both Bills, a legal opinion would be helpful.  A lot of the language of this form reminds me of "uninsurable" contract language, arguably worse since a reference PE has essentially zero control over the practices of the applicant post-licensure.

    Christian Parker P.E., M.ASCE
    Structural Project Engineer
    Chicago IL

  • 5.  RE: PE References for Licensure

    Posted 03-18-2024 08:06 AM

    As a former licensing board member, I will say that this question has never come up in our board meetings or any NCEES meeting that I have attended. We have questioned whether the person giving the reference understands the concept of responsible charge (our state requires 24 months of such experience) based on the description of work done by the applicant.  In addition, in our state the Board sees the references, but our investigator would probably not, as it would be irrelevant to any complaint against the person being investigated.  Finally, any case against a reference would probably have to prove that the reference knew the applicant was not capable of being a PE but issued a positive reference anyway. That would be a tough hurdle to clear.  

    Colin Maynard P.E., S.E., M.ASCE
    Vice President
    Anchorage AK

  • 6.  RE: PE References for Licensure

    Posted 03-18-2024 08:09 AM

    The legal weight is references are needed for applications.  It seems to me not much else could or would occur.  I would not expect any board in an official manner to respond to such a question.  Possibly board members, particularly after they have cycled off, might discuss in a casual, off the record manner.  If I had any concern about someone's competence or abilities (or character), I would not provide a reference.  

    More ramblings:

    As noted in another reply, a lawsuit can occur for about anything.  Nonetheless, it would seem unlikely that a reference could be held responsible for actions of someone else, certainly if the reference was not a supervisor or someone working above them for the specific issue causing liability much less some time after the reference was provided.  To submit references, a person would most likely have had to complete education, had experience, and passed exams, which all seem to carry legal weight, for determination of "minimal competency."  The education and exam might get critiqued (challenged) before a reference would, unlikely also.    While the references usually coincide with the experience, they need not be such as references known through ASCE not through employment from my experiences.  I have provided references to those getting PEs if they were in classes I instructed and also to a couple folks who I know through ASCE.   

    In the state where my primary (first) PE license is in, the typical 5 references, 3 of whom have to be a PE and similar for the PS license.  I was at a board meeting years ago, do not recall if it was PE or PS board though, when the discussion of references was happening and there was no agreement that the references had to be positive, supporting the application.  The board rules only stated the reference has be be provided but nothing about the nature of the reference, so the board members discussed.  An applicant had a reference that was not positive but eventually the board determined that satisfied the requirements. The discussion continued that for applicants who were known by any board member, the references they submitted might have some scrutiny that was not possible for the many other applicants not known to board members.  There has been no real vetting of references as I have attended~observed about 20 PE and PS board meetings over the years.  Much discussion about foreign degrees and if the appropriate chemistry lab was taken or if the physics was calculus based seems to occur though.  

    Licensing jurisdictions (50 states + 5 territories & DC) each have their own laws and rules, so no entire US issue.  NCEES Model Law and Model Rules are guides and many jurisdictions are not in-line with these documents. The "nonpublic records" words caught my attention at the end of the following

    NCEES Model Rules:

    230.30 References
    References are individuals who have personal knowledge of an applicant and are able to assess an applicant's experience, ability, character, or reputation.
    A. For licensure as a professional engineer or professional surveyor, an applicant must submit five
    references, three of whom shall be professional engineers, professional surveyors, or other individuals
    deemed acceptable to the board, who have personal knowledge of the applicant's engineering or
    surveying experience. In addition, for each employment period, individuals familiar with the
    applicant's experience for that period must be identified. Engineering applicants must have
    professional engineer references, and surveying applicants must have professional surveyor
    B. Relatives may not be used as references.
    C. No current board member shall be used as a reference.
    D. Each applicant should inform the individuals being used as references that they will be sent a
    reference form to complete and return.
    E. It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that the individuals giving the reference return a
    completed reference form to the board within a reasonable time. All reference materials must be
    complete before any board action may be taken on an application.
    F. References are considered to be confidential, nonpublic records that will not be divulged except as required by law.

    David Devine P.E., L.S., M.ASCE
    Fort Wayne IN

  • 7.  RE: PE References for Licensure

    Posted 03-25-2024 04:54 PM

    In my view, any legal weight placed on references would have a chilling effect on the process. No PE in their right mind would touch the process if there were legal implications. I view the PE process as a best-endeavor effort to screen for basic competency. I also come back to the point that I have made numerous times: the most important part of being a PE is the ethical obligation that comes with the license. Past performance is a leading indicator but not a guarantee of future success. It's ultimately up to the individual, their competency, and their ethical compass.

    Mitch Winkler P.E.(inactive), M.ASCE
    Houston, TX