Unlicensed Civil Engineers Posing as PEs

October 28, 2009 at 10:24 pm 8 comments

By Carol Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

manda Kolson Hurley, Executive Editor at ARCHITECT Magazine, wrote a great article:  Trust Me.  I’m An (Unlicensed) Architect.  The subheader reads “If you don’t have an architectural license, it’s illegal to call yourself an architect or perform architectural services—but people still do. Who are they, who’s policing them, and can they be stopped?”  This well written article sites enforcement actions taken by states.  It got me thinking, who is policing the civil engineering community?

As I Googled “civil engineers license violation” I found myself at the California Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. They state that while they have some criminal prosecutions…Citations are an alternative to criminal prosecutions which the Board can use to enforce the laws prohibiting unlicensed practice of engineering or land surveying. When a fine is levied with a citation, payment of the fine represents satisfactory resolution of the matter. The State’s criminal and citation listings have not been updated since 2007.

In 2003, NSPE approved their guidelines for NSPE State Chapters in addressing unlicensed practice of engineering. The report, now 6 years old, reported the finding that the most frequent violation cited by State Boards was that of unlicensed practice. Has this been updated?  Are there new numbers tracking violations?  I hope to have some answers in a future BLOG. In speaking with several officers of state chapters of NSPE, I found that policing has become increasingly difficult for the states.  Self-policing by the state chapters, as opposed to relying on the individual state licensing boards is taking on a life of it’s own. Models for programs to give more support to State Licensing Boards are being developed.

With so many civil engineers still looking for work, some licensed and many not, I wonder if desperation will breed fraud? The majority of civil engineering firms now run their own employment background checks including license verification. But, what about the average individual consumer, looking to hire, for example, a structural engineer for inspection? How many check with the local licensing boards?  One would hope everyone! Realistically…probably not that many.

What do you think and what do you know?

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Trust Me, I’m an (Unlicensed) Architect
If you don’t have an architectural license, it’s illegal to call yourself an architect or perform architectural services—but people still do. Who are they, who’s policing them, and can they be stopped?


Entry filed under: Civil Engineering, civil engineering blog, Civil Engineering Issues, Professional Registration, The U.S. Economy & Civil Engineering. Tags: , .

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Brandon Lee  |  January 5, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    How does an unlicensed Civil Engineer stamp their plans then? My friend who is starting an Architect firm told me how he couldn’t call themselves Architects until he passed the tests. I never knew that. Looking on Craigslist there are a lot of “Architects” with job ads.

  • 2. Tom  |  December 3, 2009 at 4:10 pm


    This has been a problem ever since wide spread licensing began generally in the 1950’s within the US. State boards are the primary guardian for enforcement and most states provide an online search ability to determine if a person is licensed and if the license is active or inactive. But, from personal knowledge, the boards (99% of the time) only know of violations if a concerned citizen files a formal complaint with that board. Most boards power is limited on a case by case basis (written reprimands, fines, and shared data bases with other states of individuals offenses). Criminal and civil court actions are generally left up to the individuals involved to pursue at their own cost.

    As a licensed professional in many states, during my career I’ve had my seal and signature (to the best of my knowledge) used unauthorized twice by clients. In both cases, the two state boards left it up to me deal with since in both case the individual was not licenses by the state and were sent a letter to not do it again.

    In both cases, the clients motive was to save money and didn’t agree with the standards required for approval. One, actually received a building permit. I am currently involved in a legal case against the client with my former employer under copy right laws.

    Do to predictable human nature and my knowledge through personal and witnessed experiences I can safely say this is going on right now and will continue in the future until states put stringent controls and penalties in place right done to the manufacturing of the seal its self.

    • 3. aepcentral  |  December 3, 2009 at 9:11 pm

      That is AMAZING to me. Each time I hear of someone basically stealing someone else’s seal I shake my head. Thanks for your comments Tom.

  • 4. Sandy  |  November 16, 2009 at 1:07 am

    Yes in civil engineering services most of them are unlicensed engineers. it would be create problem in future.i would suggest to go or use only licensed civil engineering services.

  • 5. Patrick McGarry  |  November 2, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    I am sure the same thing is going on with LEED Certification. I couldn’t find a way to confirm if someone is LEED Certified from the USGBC website. Now that they have changed the criteria, they still expect those who earned their certification a few years ago, have not kept up with the education requirements to maintain the certification.

    • 6. Kristen Salinas, EIT and LEED AP  |  November 3, 2009 at 3:05 pm

      There is a way to look up LEED accredited professional on the GBCI website, although I’m not sure if you can tell which version of the test that person has passed.

      With the new education requirements that have just been introduced, people will be dropped as LEED APs without signing up for the education program requirements starting in 2011.

      As for Civil PEs, I hope unlicensed engineers are not claiming to be licensed. If they took the EIT or have attempted the PE at all, they understand the ethics of the profession and know better than to cross them.

    • 7. Mark Moen  |  November 3, 2009 at 3:07 pm

      You can check LEED accrededation credentials at http://www.gbci.org. Move your cursor over “Directories” in the tool bar near the top of their home page and select “LEED Professional Directory”. This takes you to a page where you can enter the name of the person and other specific search information. It takes several months for the directory to be updated with newly credentialed people, so it would be a good idea to ask the person when they passed the exam. USGBC no longer manages the LEED exam process.

  • 8. Mike Roselli, EI » No P.E., No job?  |  October 29, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    […] an (Unlicensed Architect) in ARCHITECT Magazine, Carol Metzner of CivilEngineeringCentral poses the question: who is policing the civil engineering community and their PE violations? It seems as though state […]


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