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Licensing Boards: Entities That Govern the Design Professions Part 1 – Introduction to Licensing Boards and Revisions of Laws and Regulations

By Kevin O'Beirne, PE, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, CDT posted 06-14-2024 11:44 AM


This is the first in a four-part series addressing licensing boards governing the design professions, comprised of: (a) Part 1 – Introduction to Licensing Boards and Revisions of Laws and Regulations; (b) Part 2 – Qualifications of Perspective Licensees and Licensing Exams; (c) Part 3 – Issuance of Licenses and Registrations; and (d) Part 4 - Enforcement.

In the United States and Canada, each of the design professions is governed by a licensing board at the state or provincial level. While some jurisdictions have one licensing board governing all design professions, it is more common that one board governs the practice of architecture and, perhaps, landscape architecture, and a separate board governs the practice of professional engineering. Many jurisdictions have a single licensing board responsible for professional engineering, land surveying, and, where licensure is required, geology. Regardless of whether a jurisdiction has one or more licensing boards governing the various design professions, the functions, and operations of such boards are typically similar from one jurisdiction to the next.

This series of articles describes the basic functions of licensing boards governing the design professions and how their operations affect personnel engaged in architecture, engineering, and other design professions in the United States. In this series of articles, laws, rules, and regulations are referenced as either “laws and regulations” or “statutory requirements”.

Who and What are Licensing Boards?

While it is common for personnel engaged in the design professions, whether licensees or non-licensed individuals working under the responsible charge of a professional engineer, registered architect, professional geologist, or other licensed design professional, to be aware of the existence of the state licensing board, there is often a surprising lack of familiarity with the purpose and functions of licensing boards, the resources they provide, and considerations for interacting with the board when an allegation of misconduct has been filed with the board.

Reasons, why the design professions are licensed at the state level in the United States, are discussed in, “Ethics: Codes of Conduct for Design Professionals, Part 1: Introduction and Ethical Dilemmas” (also see Part 2 and Part 3 concerning ethics), previously published on this writer’s blog. Such licensing boards govern actions that constitute the applicable statutory definition of the practice of architecture, practice of professional engineering, or practice of another design profession, as discussed in, “Responsible Charge: An Essential Concept for Design Professionals”, previously published on this writer’s blog.

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) publishes model statutory language for the regulation of the practice of architecture in the United States. NCARB’s Model Law and Regulations include model requirements for licensing board composition and qualifications in Section 202 and 203. Similarly, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) publishes suggested language for state and territorial laws and regulations governing the practice of professional engineering and land surveying in the United States. NCEES’s Model Law (revised September 2021) Section 120, presents model statutory language regarding the composition and qualifications of licensing board members. NCARB’s and NCEES’s model language do not indicate an appropriate number of board members, but each suggests that the board be comprised of licensed, registered design professionals in the subject discipline as well as members of the public who have no relationship or association with licensed design professionals of the subject discipline. Section 202 of NCARB’s Model Law and Regulations has alternative language to include on an architecture licensing board licensed design professionals other than architects. The model statutory language requires that all board members must: reside in the subject jurisdiction, undergo appropriate training for their responsibilities as licensing board members, not be subject to conflicts of interest regarding the board’s operations, and not be an officer or hold any leadership position in the jurisdiction’s professional association or national professional association representing the subject design profession. Board members who are architects or engineers must be licensed and registered in the same jurisdiction as the board (typically possessing not less than five years of experience serving in responsible charge), and must be in good standing as a licensee in all jurisdictions where the member is licensed.

To the best of this writer’s knowledge, no state has adopted NCEES’s or NCARB’s model statutory requirements in their entirety, and each state has its own, unique laws and regulations governing the design professions, including those governing licensing boards. For example, in the State of New York, one licensing board covers engineering, land surveying, and geology and is comprised of not less than 12 members including, not less than seven licensed professional engineers, two licensed professional land surveyors, two licensed professional geologists, and one member of the public. In contrast, New York State’s architecture licensing board is to be comprised of not less than eight members, including not less than seven licensed architects and one member of the public. Like New York, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a single board governing engineering, land surveying, and geology, except that Pennsylvania’s board is comprised of 13 members, including the state’s Commissioner of Professional and Occupational Affairs, three members of the public, five registered professional engineers, two registered professional land surveyors, and two registered professional geologists. Pennsylvania’s architecture board is comprised of nine members, including the Commissioner of Professional and Occupational Affairs, the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection in the Office of the Attorney General, or their designee, two members of the public, and five architects.

The state department responsible for design professional licensing boards varies by jurisdiction. As just two examples, in the State of New York, both the engineering-land surveying-geology board and the architecture board are part of the New York State Office of the Professions which, in turn, is a subunit of the New York State Education Department. In Pennsylvania, the architecture board and engineer-land surveying-geology board are each part of the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, which is a subunit of the Department of State.

Laws and regulations establish the required frequency of meetings of licensing boards in each jurisdiction. Most design professional licensing boards appear to meet either once every two or three months, each typically for multiple days. Each design professional licensing board typically has its own website, on the state government’s website, with links to applicable laws and regulations, documents presenting guidance on practicing the profession, administrative forms such as applications for licensure, meeting schedules and meeting minutes, identification of current board members, online listing of actions taken in disciplinary cases, and, sometimes, an online newsletter. Such newsletters may also include informative articles and brief summaries of disciplinary actions imposed by the board.

Licensing boards’ responsibilities generally include the following: (1) recommending or adopting appropriate revisions to the laws and regulations governing the subject design profession; (2) determining whether applicants for licensure are sufficiently qualified; (3) issuing licenses and registrations; and (4) enforcing the laws and regulations governing the subject design profession. Each of these is described in separate sections of this series of articles.

Revisions to Laws and Regulations

Each jurisdiction may have its own administrative and procedural requirements for modifying laws and regulations. Often, only a state legislature is empowered to  make or modify laws. Regulations, on the other hand, are typically enforceable requirements established by a non-legislative body as authorized by the associated law. In most states, laws governing the practice of the design professions are high-level and reasonably brief, as enacted by the state legislature. Typically, such laws establish the state licensing board for the subject design profession and empower the board to enact and amend regulations necessary to fulfill the board’s mission authorized under the law.

Thus, in some jurisdictions, the architecture or engineering licensing board may be authorized, on its own initiative and without seeking concurrence from the legislature, to modify or amend regulations governing the practice of the subject design profession, but are not empowered to modify the law establishing the board in the need to regulate the design profession. Regardless, design professional licensing boards typically possess the authority to revise many of the statutory requirements governing the practice of the associated design profession in that jurisdiction.

When considering revisions to statutory requirements, design professional licensing boards may consider the model statutory language published by NCEES and NCARB, as applicable, together with new or revised laws and regulations in effect in that jurisdiction and perhaps other jurisdictions as well. Industry trends in the design professions may also prompt a licensing board to revise applicable statutory language. An example of the latter is licensing boards that have adopted statutory requirements governing use of electronic seals and signatures, which is certainly merited by modern technology, but was generally not a consideration in the design professions prior to the 1990s.

Decisions in lawsuits or arbitrations concerning professional liability insurance, construction disputes, structural or other types of catastrophic failures, and misconduct by design professionals, whether or not within the board’s jurisdiction, may spur licensing boards to consider revisions to statutory requirements.

When an architecture or engineering licensing board proposes revisions to statutory requirements, the potential modifications are often reflected in the board’s meeting minutes and, frequently, are available for comment by licensed design professionals, the general public, industry organizations representing design professionals, and others, in accordance with the jurisdiction's administrative procedures act. On occasion, a licensing board may hold one or more public hearings on proposed revisions to statutory requirements. Eventually, the revisions are finalized, published, and become enforceable as of a specific date.

Licensing boards may take extraordinary steps, such as direct mailings, to advise individuals with current licensure and registration of the revised law or regulations. Licensees should not assume that statutory requirements remain static and unchanged. Therefore, it is advisable for each licensee to periodically review and re-familiarize themselves with all the statutory requirements applicable to their profession in each jurisdiction where they are licensed and registered. In addition, it may also be advisable for unlicensed individuals regularly working within a design profession to periodically review the applicable laws and regulations to ensure their personal actions are consistent with statutory requirements.

Design professional boards are typically empowered to license both individuals and business entities.  A useful resource concerning this matter is the American Bar Association’s Forum on Construction Law - Division 3 - Design's "50-state Survey of Firm Licensure Requirements for Architectural and Engineering Firms," January 2015. Architecture and engineering consulting firms, and entities employing other design disciplines must typically be registered and/or licensed in each state and territory in which they do business. Thus, for a business to offer or perform services constituting the practice of one or more design professions, the firm must be licensed and registered in each jurisdiction where it practices. Furthermore, the firm’s services must be performed under the responsible charge of an appropriate design professional licensed and registered in the same jurisdiction as the project.


In a given state or jurisdiction, one or more licensing boards will govern the design professions, with responsibility for revising, or recommending revisions to, applicable laws and regulations, determining eligibility for licensure, issuing licenses, and enforcing the associated laws and regulations. Licensing boards are comprised of both licensees in the subject design profession and unlicensed members of the general public, and have jurisdiction over the licensure of both individuals and design firms. Boards are typically empowered to make appropriate revisions to regulations governing the subject design profession within their jurisdiction, and recommend to the state legislature revisions to applicable laws. It is incumbent on licensees and others who work in the design professions to be familiar with current statutory requirements.

Future installments in this series will include Part 2 – Qualifications of Perspective Licensees and Licensing Exams; Part 3 – Issuance of Licenses and Registrations; and Part 4 - Enforcement.

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Acknowledgements: The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the following, who kindly reviewed and commented on drafts of this article: Jerry Cavaluzzi, Esq, of Westchester County, NY, who is Chief Risk Officer and General Counsel for Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, Inc.; and James K. Lowe, Jr., Esq., P.E. (VA, emeritus), who has more than 45 years experience in the A/E industry. The author is solely responsible for the content of this article. 

Original text Copyright 2024 by Kevin O’Beirne

The content of this blog post is by the author alone and should not be attributed to any other individual or entity.

The author of this blog post is not an attorney and nothing in this blog post constitutes legal advice. Readers in need of legal advice should consult with a qualified, experienced attorney.

Kevin O’Beirne, PE, FCSI, CCS, CCCA is a professional engineer licensed in NY and PA with over 35 years of experience designing and constructing water and wastewater infrastructure for public and private clients.  He is the engineering specifications manager for a global engineering and architecture design firm.  He has been a member of various CSI national committees and is the certification chair of CSI’s Buffalo-Western New York Chapter. He is an ACEC voting delegate in the Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee (EJCDC) and lives and works in the Buffalo, NY, area.  Kevin O’Beirne’s LinkedIn page