Shoddy Work

by Barry Drogin

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To The Editor:

I have read your editorial on "shoddy" engineering and have heeded your plea for replies. I agree with you that most shoddy engineering does not result from a conscious desire to produce sub- standard work, but rather from engineers getting in "over their heads" in areas of non-expertise. Hidden in this analysis, of course, is the solution of using more experts, i.e., NSPE consultants, who won't be "over their heads" and thus will not produce shoddy work.

An NSPE member, engineer or consultant, is supposed to refuse work outside of his area of expertise. If we all do, then it is the non-professional engineer who is responsible for all the shoddy work out there. Hidden in this analysis, of course, is the solution of increasing NSPE membership to encompass all engineers, which would be nice.

Both of these analyses, however, ignore economic and power structure realities. Though the engineer who did the shoddy work is, and must be, ultimately to blame for doing that work, the manager who refuses to hire consultants (why, I don't know, since it would certainly be more cost-effective), or who imposes ridiculous time and money constraints, is also to blame for initiating a project that can only reach completion in shoddy form. Will an engineer refuse to work outside of his expertise? No, most would welcome the challenge, and see it as an opportunity to learn. Of course, to learn one must make mistakes, and mistakes result in shoddy work. The manager, ultimately, is making the "quality of life" decisions.

It is my opinion that many engineering projects are devoted to the production of goods which, even when perfectly and beautifully designed, are basically useless, too expensive, and even lower the quality of life. Not all projects, mind you, but certainly many. I feel it is much more important to study the impact of bad projects on the image of the profession than it is to consider bad work.

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007