20% of Engineers May Be Audited
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Statistically speaking, you are virtually guaranteed to be audited during your career, and likely more than once.
State engineering boards now audit professional engineers to verify they met the continuing education requirements. It is important you know what the requirement are, keep records for six years, complete the right type of training, and use approved course providers. If you are registered in multiple states, as most engineers are, then you could be audited more than once in a single year.
State engineering boards have different targets for the number of professional engineers they audit each year, but they will generally review between 5 and 20 percent of the license renewals.
We developed a course that presents actual disciplinary decisions from state engineering boards. Learn more.
Audit Selection Process
Audits typically occur in states where licensees are not required to submit verification of continuing education courses at the time of renewal. In these states, the engineer certifies that they have completed the required number of CEU courses, and the audit is the board’s method of verifying the information. Most engineers who are audited are selected at random from the list of licensed engineers. However, many states automatically audit engineers who have been disciplined in the past.
The timing of an audit also differs from state to state.The Florida engineering board, for example, selects who they will audit in June and sends notices to these licensees within a few weeks. Every state is different, so it is important that you be prepared for an audit by making certain you have met the board’s continuing education requirements before you renew your license and keeping records in an orderly fashion so you can produce them quickly.
The following information includes some useful strategies and methods for dealing with a state engineering board audit.
Professional Engineering Continuing Education Requirements
Most professional engineers are required to complete continuing education (CE) training as part of their license renewal. Currently, 42 states require engineers to earn professional development (PDH) hours, also known as continuing professional competency (CPC). State engineering boards require continuing education as a means of keeping professional engineers up to date on industry practices, new technology, and rules in your state. Most states require 10 to 15 hours per year or 30 PDH credits biennially, or every two years. A few, like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, require 24 hours biennially.
States usually request CE reporting in one of two ways:
- Submitting certificates that verify your completion of the CEUs when you renew your license, or
- Attestation in which you sign a statement indicating you completed all required PDH credits.
Although attestation may appear easier on the surface, states perform random audits of registered professional engineers and require the licensee to submit proof that they completed all required continuing education courses. If you are audited and cannot produce documentation of completed training courses, you risk fines, sanctions, and even suspension of your right to practice engineering.
Being audited is not a sign that you have done anything wrong or that the board is investigating you for an ethics violation. It is merely an administrative review of your continuing education training by the Board to verify that you met the requirements.
Despite this fact, some engineers panic when they receive notice that they are being audited, even though they have complied with the continuing education requirements. Take comfort in the fact that most audits conclude the professional engineer has completed the required CEU training, and the licensee will receive a letter from the Board stating they are satisfied with the information provided.
The key thing to remember is that the Board has a duty to verify that you completed the required training, and you must provide them with acceptable documentation within a reasonable time. This is where record keeping proves crucial.
Penalties Are Severe
Non-compliance with the continuing education requirement is a serious matter that can lead to the board refusing to renew your license. If you let your license lapse (because you haven’t completed the CEU training), you may have to reapply for licensure as if you were applying for the first time.
Usually, professional engineers are allowed a grace period of 2 years to renew before they have to start over, but this time period varies by state. If you can complete the continuing ed training and renew within this window, most states will reinstate you by with a renewal fee.
There is no grace period for renewing your engineering license. If your state requires continuing education, you must complete the minimum PDH hours before the renewal date. If you don’t have the minimum hours, then you will not be allowed to renew your license and you are immediately ineligible to use your license. Once this occurs, you cannot legally practice engineering.
This is why it’s so important to stay on top of your license renewal so this doesn’t happen to you. If you falsely certify that you have met the CE hours, you are subject to penalties that include fines, censure, suspension, and even revocation of your license. will result in refusal of the board to renew your license.
There are many disciplinary actions taken against professional engineers who either allowed their license to lapse and continued practicing engineering or who certified that they had completed all required continuing education credits when they had not. Many of the licensees who incorrectly indicated that they had earned enough CEU credits did not intentionally make a false statement; they merely failed to read the statement in its entirety or they incorrectly assumed that they could complete the continuing education courses later. Regardless, the boards take these matters seriously and they are quick to sanction engineers who do not comply.
The consequences of a failed Continuing Education audit can be severe and may include a fine, a requirement to provide acceptable proof of CEU credits (30 days is fairly standard), and suspension of the PE’s license until the board receives all required information.
Fines can be expensive – the average fine in 2018 for a professional engineer who did not meet the continuing education requirement was $720. To make matters worse, if you are disciplined by a state engineering board, you are required to report this action to all other states where you are licensed. The Texas Board fined and reprimanded a PE who was disciplined in Iowa for not completing the required 30 hours of continuing education credits.
Each state has its own requirements about reporting disciplinary actions in other jurisdictions, but there are time limits (48 hours to 30 days) and you may be sanctioned in the other states, especially if they have similar rules about continuing education. Things can quickly cascade out of control, so it is extremely important to maintain compliance with your CEU requirements in every state you are licensed.
CE Records Maintenance
In addition to meeting the continuing education requirements for your state PE license, you are responsible for storing and maintaining your training records. Failing to keep adequate records can result in fines and penalties, including suspension of your license. Most states require licensed engineers to keep copies of the PDH credits for a minimum of 4 years, although the range is from 2 to 6 years. Maintaining copies of your certificates of completion and other CE records ensures that you can pass any audit that comes your way.
This goes beyond simply tucking records in a drawer and occasionally organizing them because you may have a short window to respond to an audit. To keep your records organized and in good condition, you should have some sort of filing system, such as an Excel spreadsheet, to keep track of the date the course was completed, the training organization, the number of PDH hours received, the course author (or presenter if it was a live seminar or webinar), and the state engineering board approval number (if your state requires pre-approval of continuing education providers).
State boards usually want an electronic copy of your certificates of completion, so it makes sense to save your documents in electronic format. Although you are free to select the method of storing your files, Adobe PDF is the most commonly used format.
What Type of Records Do I Need
A common question professional engineers ask regarding continuing education has to do with documenting their participation and completion of the training course. Fortunately, every state board lists their minimum requirements, so it is simple to check what you will need for the states you hold a license in. In general, they require the following information:
- The date of the training
- The name of the instructor or course author
- The name of the training institution (e.g. online course provider, engineering society, University, seminar or conference)
- The number of PDH credits
- State approval number (if the state requires pre-approval of course providers)
- The type of course (e.g. self-directed, online, webinar, live, etc.)
- Authorization signature of provider documenting your completion of the course
A certificate of completion is the most common type of documentation provided for courses and training events. Many state engineering boards do not accept receipts, marketing fliers, or your notes as proof of CEU participation.
Remember, the professional engineer is responsible for having the necessary documentation – not the course provider or sponsoring institution. Check with your state board to confirm you will receive the correct documentation before you participate in a training event.
What Kind of CEU Training is Acceptable to Engineering Boards
Most states developed their continuing education standards using the NCEEs model. This model is an attempt to standardize the CUE requirements among the fifty states to ensure engineers in all states meet the same level of competency. Each state has their own requirements, but engineers can obtain CEU hours using these methods.
- Presenting or attending seminars
- In-house or non-classroom courses
- Professional or technical presentations made at meetings
- Publishing a paper, article, or book
- Attending a convention
- Conferences, including those presented by vendors with specific knowledge related to the licensee’s area of practice
- College unit, semester, or quarter hour credit for college courses
- Interactive activities
- Teaching credit for short courses
- Active participation in professional and technical societies
- Patents (the invention must be related to the registrant’s profession)
Approved Continuing Education Providers
Some states require professional engineers to use pre-approved continuing education providers. Examples of providers most states accept include:
- National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES)
- National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
- Continuing education providers
- State Societies of Professional Engineers; i.e. Texas Society of Professional Engineers (TSPE)
- Technical or professional societies or organizations relating to professional engineering
- Colleges, universities or other educational institutions
- Other technical or professional societies or organizations including manufacturers
If your state pre-approves CE courses or continuing education providers, you must use their approved sources for your CEU hours to count toward your requirement.
Do Engineering Boards Really Punish Engineers?
Yes, state boards will initiate a disciplinary hearing if the audit indicates an engineer didn’t complete the required continuing education. Florida requires licensees to keep records to complying with a CE audit for four years from the date of completion of the continuing education activity.
Failing to to produce documentation automatically results in the opening of a disciplinary complaint against the licensee. If it is determined you violated the code, penalties range from a reprimand with a $1,000 fine up to a suspension until you can demonstrates compliance.