Influencing government through engineering expertise

Influencing government through engineering expertise

Can infrastructure policy, and its delivery, be improved by including engineers in govenment

Policy delivery: engineers in local government

  • Local government must be in a position to provide the basic services to address poverty and offer people the “opportunity to live in dignity.” (Lawless, 2008)
  • Developing countries in particular often suffer from a lack of experienced engineers in government (e.g. of 231 local municipalities in South Africa in 2008, 79 had no civil engineers or technicians, 42 had only 1 technician and 38 only had technical staff under 35).
  • Lack of engineers in government leads to poor infrastructure policy and incapacity for policy delivery
  • There is insufficient confidence to take decisions on technical matters, and holistic and long-term planning is not in place
  • Bulk services and designs are inadequate, contracts are not managed, systems are not in place or maintained, processes are not in place or enforced
  • There is little understanding of the need for operations and maintenance

Policy formation: engineers in national government

  • Lack of engineering advice on the formation of national policy has led to key policies failing to address the delivery of engineering assets required for targets to be met (see example opposite).

Example: lack of engineers in strategic planning – the South Africa power crisis

  • In a 1998 report to government (“White Paper on the Energy Policy of the Republic of South Africa”) the state-owned electricity provider, Eskom, predicted electricity shortages by 2007 unless capacity was expanded
  • Since 2007, South Africa has experienced rolling blackouts (“loadshedding”) expected to continue until 2012 at great cost to the economy
  • One major factor leading to this crisis was a lack of civil service staff who were able to understand and evaluate engineering advice to support measures to maintain and expand the energy infrastructure

Reasons for the lack of engineers in governments

  • Lack of recognition of the need for technical skills
  • Frustrations through exclusion of technical staff from stategic decision making
  • Poor conditions of employment compared to private sector
  • Lack of career development opportunities


Actively attract engineering expertise into government and continue to develop that expertise

The necessary steps…

For effective infrastructure delivery, we need:

  • Engineers into policy delivery
  • Engineers into policy making
  • External engineering advice to government

Employ more technical staff at all levels offering suitable hierarchies and responsibilities so that their skills are used (including executive decision making)

  • Conditions of employment for technical staff in government must align with the private sector
  • Advertising for technical staff and accredited training schemes is needed to show engineering in government as a viable career that also offers career development
  • Key Departments require Chief Engineering Advisers with experience of delivering large-scale projects and quality supporting staff able to source and assess technical evidence to support the formation of evidence-based policy in key areas such as climate change, energy supply, low-carbon transport etc

Government should be encouraged to consider the engineering community as a resource: engineering advice should be sought early in the policy development process (see example).

Example: Engineering advice to government - USA National Academy of Engineering (NAE)The NEA is a private, independent, nonprofit institution, comprising accomplished members of industry and academia, that advises the US federal government, through the National Research Council – NRC, and also conducts its own independent studies that examine important topics in engineering and technology. In a typical year, more than 900 NRC study committees may be in operation.

Example: Unified support of engineers in government - Local Government Engineers' Association (LGEA), Australia
The LGEA represents engineers working within local government on matters relating to their salaries and working conditions, maximising their employment conditions and career advancement. They do this through industrial awards or negotiated agreements with Council.

Further reading:

Juma, C, The Hinton Lecture (2006) Redesigning African Economies: The Role of Engineering in International Development
Lawless, A (2008) Numbers & Needs in Local Government: Civil Engineering – the critical profession for service delivery, South African Institute of Civil Engineering