When Representing Civil Engineering or ASCE, Keep Positions Professional, Not Political

July 12, 2012

ASCE President Herrmann at the White House, July 6Recently, there was news for civil engineering worth celebrating: Congress finally agreed to and approved a long-term surface transportation bill to replace the one that expired in 2009. President Obama held a signing ceremony at the White House, an event that 2012 ASCE President Andy Herrmann, P.E., SECB, F.ASCE, attended.

If you’re active in ASCE, sometimes representing civil engineering and/or ASCE at official events or in local media, how do you express your views on governmental positions or decisions that affect the profession without giving the impression of partisanship?

Recognize professionally and objectively that it was appropriate for Andy to be at the White House. His presence on behalf of the Society reflected what has been ASCE’s ongoing support for a new long-term surface transportation bill.

As you may know, our tax status as a 501(c)3 non-profit professional association prevents ASCE from endorsing candidates or parties. However, we can take positions on legislative and governmental actions that affect the practice of civil engineering. So, it’s acceptable (and, in fact, encouraged) to show support or disapproval for an action, as long as your message stays focused on the actions and their potential effects, not the lawmakers behind them, their parties or political motives.

That’s not a tough distinction, but delivering a message that maintains that while not being perceived as partisan can be difficult. And in the charged atmosphere of a presidential election year, many viewers, listeners, or readers will allege partisan attitudes where none exist. If you’re accused of political bias, stay on message and don’t get pulled into the partisan argument of the accuser.

If your Section, Branch, Younger Member Group or student organization intends to take a position on an issue at any level of government (local, state or federal), and wants to be sure that the message does not implicitly endorse a lawmaker, candidate or party, contact Leslie Nolen or Aaron Castelo of ASCE’s Government Relations office for guidance.

John Marston
Manager, Digital Media Communications

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