Ieee Response to Bart Case
Engineers (IEEE to demand that the IEEE set up ethics support mechanisms. Three engineers who were working on the development of BART; Holger Hjortsvang, Max Blankenzee, and Robert Bruder; encountered a variety of unsafe and otherwise improper practices on the job.
When their efforts to resolve these problems using the immediate management team were constantly ignored, they took the issues to the BART Board of Directors. Their concerns were once again rejected and, soon afterward, they were fired for the obvious reason of putting an end to all debate or action in the matter.
Subsequent investigations by various groups, including The California Society of Professional Engineers (CSPE) and a California State Senate Committee of distinguished engineers, fully validated the points they had made.
In late 1973, this led the IEEE Committee on Social Implications of Technology (CSIT) to call for the Board of Directors to intervene on behalf of these engineers, and to set up mechanisms for dealing with such cases in the future. One result was the important amicus curiae brief entered in 1975 by the IEEE in support of the BART engineers’ wrongful discharge suit. This brief presented that if engineers were discharged because of conformity to an ethical obligation to protect public safety, the termination should be considered a breach of implied terms in the employment contract.
A few years later, the Member Conduct Committee (MCC) was established, with the dual roles of initiating disciplinary proceedings against IEEE members who behave improperly, and of investigating and recommending support for IEEE members who have been punished because of their efforts to adhere to the ethics code.
The BART case has become a strong foundation for engineering ethics. An engineer has the duty to report to the appropriate authority a possible risk to others from a client or employer failing to follow the engineer’s directions.
According to ethical principles, this duty overrides the duty to a client or employer. The client or employer should be advised of the consequences and the engineer should assure that the client takes his advice. However, the engineer must observe that corrective steps are taken and, if they are not, the situation must be reported to the appropriate authority.
As a result, courts have often sided with engineers in such cases, overruling duties to employers and confidentiality considerations that otherwise would have prevented the engineer from speaking out.