GSA LC Mandate Gets Mixed Reviews

By Alex Schultz, Editorial Intern September 1, 2005

The U.S. General Services Administration mandated the participation of certified lighting designers on its projects a few months ago, but this has created questions among those involved in lighting design. Already hazy on what exactly it means to bear the “LC” (Lighting Certified) credential after one’s name, some electrical engineers are expressing further confusion in attempting to understand the ramifications of GSA’s mandate.

In response to a web story CSE ran last month, one reader queried: “Does one infer correctly that in addition to being a licensed professional engineer, one must now obtain certification from NCQLP in order to sign, seal and deliver GSA documents?”

According to the National Council on Qualifications for the Lighting Professions (NCQLP), the makers of the LC exam, “The LC credential demonstrates to clients/customers and your peers that you have acquired the necessary knowledge, understanding and ability to apply lighting principles and techniques successfully.”

In other words, it verifies that one is a capable lighting designer. However, to date, only 51% of exam-takers have been college graduates. Consequently, this designation requires further explanation. A bachelor’s degree and three years of lighting-related experience, or a total of six years of lighting-related work, is required to sit for the exam. It is these differing requirements that let the NCQLP expand what it means to be a lighting designer. According to Al Borden of the Lighting Practice, Philadelphia, “NCQLP was set up to begin the process of establishing lighting design as a separate profession with a specific body of knowledge and skills that can be tested and certified.”

P.E.s who have been designing lighting systems for years are surprised to find that their certification in no way takes precedence over the LC credential, except that their stamp still carries all of the professional liability insurance. Borden explains, “The current LC designation is not a license so it does not have the legal standing of P.E. or R.A. LC, per NCQLP’s description, only certifies that the bearer of the appellation has reached a minimum level of proficiency with lighting knowledge.”

This disparity between the level of expertise and the level of accountability has warranted reasonable concern from design engineers who now face the possibility of being unable to perform any lighting design due to the lack of an LC, as other government agencies and even the private sector begin to require the credential. Work may now have to be subcontracted, yet engineers may still retain all of the professional liability. Another CSE reader, in response to the same story, declared he will include “not responsible for lighting design…” with his stamp.

Not all engineers are opposed to the certification requirement. “I have been an engineer for many years, but when I studied for and received my LC, I became a much better lighting designer,” said Keith Lane, a registered P.E. and LC.

Lane also points out the recertification process requires individuals to accumulate 36 hours of continuing education, teach every three years and submit a completed Lighting Education Unit (LEU) Reporting Form. “[It’s] something I just would not complete if I were not forced to for the LC credential.”

The coming months will tell if the LC mandate grows beyond the GSA into the private sector, but Borden points out that the LC credential is already gaining in value. “Experienced design consultants find themselves competing against sales reps or showroom employees who have passed the NCQLP exam and been awarded an LC.”

That being said, he noted the industry really won’t find out what liability, if any, is associated with the LC credential until something goes wrong, and of course, someone is sued.