ISA leaders attend industry and public-policy meetings in Washington D.C.

  • April 30, 2017
  • Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

Reported by Paul Gruhn, PE, CFSE, Global Functional Safety Consultant at aeSolutions and ISA Life Fellow, expert and instructor

In late April, a group of ISA leaders attended a series of meetings in Washington, D.C. on important trends in automation, engineering and manufacturing, and how they may be influenced by public policy considerations and projected federal spending and R&D investment. The group included: Patrick Gouhin (ISA CEO and Executive Director); Robert Lindeman (American Association of Engineering Societies Board member and former ISA Society President); and Eric Cosman and Paul Gruhn, both long-time ISA leaders.

ISA presidents have traditionally participated in these types of meetings each year in the nation's capital. However, this year, the Society's president and former president were joined by highly recognized ISA subject matter experts and ISA standards committee participants. For instance, Eric Cosman provided critical insights on ISA's expertise in industrial cybersecurity standards and Paul Gruhn showcased ISA's leadership in functional safety.

The first day featured a meeting with the AAES (American Association of Engineering Societies). The AAES is a US federation of 17 engineering and engineering-related societies, of which ISA is one. The purpose of the organization is to collectively achieve what individual societies cannot achieve alone (ISA itself was formed in 1945 from a collection of more than a dozen local instrument societies). These particular meetings, held at the National Academy of Sciences Building, focused on artificial intelligence and ethical considerations associated with autonomous vehicles.

Representatives from Boeing, Caterpillar, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and various universities delivered presentations. There was a heavy focus on automation and control in all the presentations, including The Internet of things (IoT), Industry 4.0 and cybersecurity. ISA's Dennis Coad was instrumental in securing Dr. Kevin Wise from Boeing as a panelist.  As the International Society of Automation, we have incredible potential to influence and to be involved with so much more than what we currently are!

On the second morning, all four ISA leaders attended the Engineering Public Policy Symposium (held at the Rayburn House Office Building, next to the Capitol Building) that is annually conducted by the United Engineering Foundation (UEF). At this meeting, the presidents, presidents-elect and executive directors from 44 national engineering societies (representing more than 2 million engineers) listened to presentations on public policy. The audience received: word of the alarming proposed R&D spending cuts in the FY 17 & 18 budgets; divergent viewpoints on federal investments to spur science and innovation; and updates on research and technology within federal agencies. Various agency members, members of Congress, Congressional staff, and public policy advisors delivered insights.

President Trump's proposed initial 'skinny' budget actually has many similarities with one proposed by former President Reagan. Defense spending is up, everything else is down. There are plans to potentially eliminate significant programs within the DOE (Department of Energy),  CSB (Chemical Safety Board), NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), and dramatically cut the budgets of others.  NIST and many other federal agencies are involved in basic and applied research. Some believe that industry cannot afford to fund all the basic research we as a country need to be "great again," and that without it, our country will never recover and risks being surpassed by China or India as the world leader in innovation. 

Many of the speakers opposed the proposed budget, especially one Congressman who's also an engineer, which is pretty rare in the US Congress today.  However, while the president can propose whatever he wants, it's still up to Congress to decide what will actually happen. Trump's full budget will be released within the next few weeks. Then, Congress gets to debate it and make their decisions.

The second afternoon included an AAES board meeting. Bob Lindeman serves on the AAES board of seven people. Not all 17 AAES organizations are represented on the board, and none of the board members specifically represent their sponsoring organization; they represent the association as a whole. Organization leaders don't participate merely to meet the objectives of their own organizations. Much like being a volunteer leader within ISA, organizations also participate out of obligation for the greater good of the entire group, and, in doing so, benefit all.  Based on the results of a survey open to all 17 organizations, AAES will focus on: diversity and inclusion; educating the public about engineering; impacting public policy as it relates to AAES' vision of advancing the engineering profession; and serving the public good as one voice representing the US engineering profession.

We all can appreciate that neither one person nor any one entity has a lock on all of the good ideas and knowledge that is out there. The week underscored this point as several new connections were made, opportunities identified and new resources uncovered.  Favorable, long-term outcomes are more likely to occur when people come together in pursuit of a common vision. As evidenced by these meetings, ISA is a respected contributor in the conversation and serves as an important influencer of the overall direction of the larger engineering profession.