Engineering Ethics in a Slow Economy?

Engineering ethics is the field of applied ethics and a system of moral principles that apply to the practice of engineering. The field examines and sets the obligations by engineers to society, to their clients, and to the profession. We as a collective group of engineers are obligated by state laws and requirements to fulfill, uphold and operate within standards of a Code of Ethics.

The engineering profession as a whole is basically a self-governing body charged with the responsibility to uphold these standards. However, as a result of the economic downturn, we have observed key areas where ethical standards have "gone out the window" in an effort to win additional contracts.

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Ethical standards have a long history dating back to the early 20th century. They originally arose mainly as a result of a series of structural failures in the late 19th century and in the early 20th century.

However, before that time growing professionalism in the industry gave way to the development of four founding engineering societies: American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) (1851) American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) (1884), ASME (1880), and the American Institute of Mining Engineers (AIME) (1871). The first official code of ethics was adopted by AIEE in 1912. This started the process of evolution of these standards and the adoption and incorporation of ethical standards in state engineering laws as they stand today.

One of the fundamental cannons within the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Code of Ethics for Engineers is the fundamental guideline to avoid deceptive acts. Violation of this guideline is usually committed during competitive bidding of projects. Furthermore, deceptive acts of this nature are basically impossible to prove. It seems that technical proposal and cost estimate writing and preparation have become an art form with the current downturn in the economy.

As competent engineers, we are responsible for providing clients with a full and complete cost and technical proposal to complete work that is being solicited. However, the art of deceptive contract writing has bled into our industry.

Too often industry proposals are written vague or have exclusions for items, that one with knowledge of requirements, should be fully aware that they will be required for the project. Certainly, there are instances where unforeseen circumstances take place during the course of the project that results in additional requirements or additional work.

This form of deception is a method to make one's price for engineering services initially more attractive in a ploy to win the contract for a project. By utilizing this practice one can use items intentionally left out of proposals as a bargaining chip once all proposals are received and the review is being conducted.

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