Engineering Politics

November 14, 2008

The election of Senator Obama is a turning point in American politics.  His selection gives a voice and provides inspiration to a large population of minorities who previously felt as though they were on the sidelines of the political process.  However, other demographics remain conspicuously absent from the ranks of national elected representatives.  In the 109th Congress, only one representative identified himself as an engineer; that’s equal to the number of professional magicians. (Find more odd jobs at www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RS22007.pdf)

Given the increasing dependency of the nation on engineered systems, I believe that’s a dangerous imbalance of representation.

The solutions to critical issues including climate change, energy dependence, education, national security, water supply and even health care will require some aspect of innovative engineering.  The presidential candidates discussed these issues. (Read what they had to say at http://www.sciencedebate2008.com)  Engineers ought to join the political discussion.  At the very least, it’s our responsibility to inform our elected officials.

Although there are no civil engineers in Congress, they have a strong voice because of ASCE’s efforts.  ASCE has issued over 160 policy statements on issues of interest to the civil engineering community. The Government Relations group monitors the actions taken by national, state and local governments with regard to these issues.  Its most visible project is the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.  When this report is issued, it’s a major news event, and politicians are taking note.  It’s little surprise that funding for infrastructure projects has recently been discussed as a major component of a new economic stimulus package.

ASCE makes it easy for you to make your voice heard.  Log on to http://www.asce.org/gr and select “Click and Connect with Congress.”  You can get a list of all of your elected officials simply by typing in your zip code.  Then, take action!  For some issues, like the support of an economic stimulus with infrastructure funding, ASCE has already written the letter that gets sent to your representative.  You just need to add your contact information.

There are several ways to keep up-to-date on what’s happening in Washington.  First, check out the official blog, “Our Failing Infrastructure.”  Then, sign up to be a Key Contact and receive weekly email updates.  ASCE Government Relations is also on Facebook.  Right now, the group is asking people to send in photos of infrastructure in need of repair.

ASCE has approximately 100,000 dues-paying members.  If all those members were to become actively involved in the political process, ASCE would be a strong lobby indeed.  On his way to the White House, Barack Obama was able to convince thousands of first-time voters that their vote would make a difference.  It will be great for the country if those voters continue to tell politicians what they think.  Civil engineers need to join in that enthusiasm and become leaders in policy making.

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