Engineers in Congress

Engineers in Congress
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How well represented is the engineering profession in Congress? What about other scientific and technical professions? One measure is the composition of Congress itself, and the educational background and experience of its 535 voting members and 6 non-voting delegates.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently released its updated profile of the 116th Congress, which cites the occupations of Members prior to entering Congress. Here is a summary of the top occupations represented:

  • 246 are former state or territorial legislators (43 in the Senate, 203 in the House, including 2 Delegates and the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico)
  • 95 Members worked in education, including teachers, professors, instructors, school fundraisers, counselors, administrators, or coaches (75 in the House, including 2 delegates, 20 in the Senate)
  • 89 were former congressional staffers (19 in the Senate, 70 in the House, including 3 Delegates), as well as 6 congressional pages (3 in the House and 3 in the Senate)
  • 50 Senators were previous U.S. Representatives
  • 42 prosecutors (10 in the Senate, 32 in the House) who have served in city, county, state, federal, or military capacities
  • 41 former mayors (34 in the House, 7 in the Senate)
  • 29 veterans of the real estate industry (4 in the Senate, 25 in the House
  • 27 farmers, ranchers, or cattle farm owners (5 in the Senate, 22 in the House)
  • 21 insurance agents or executives (4 in the Senate, 17 in the House) and 4 Members who have worked with stocks or bonds (all in the House)
  • 20 public relations or communications professionals (4 in the Senate, 16 in the House)
  • 19 management consultants (5 in the Senate, 14 in the House)
  • 16 former judges (all but 1 in the House)
  • 16 physicians (3 in the Senate, 13 in the House)
  • 13 former state governors (12 in the Senate, 1 in the House) and 7 lieutenant governors (4 in the Senate, 3 in the House)
  • 13 nonprofit executives in the House
  • 12 bankers or bank executives (3 in the Senate, 9 in the House)
  • 11 engineers (10 in the House and 1 in the Senate)

The CRS list continues and includes everything from professional athletes to dentists and software company executives. There is also one self-identified physicist, one chemist, one computer systems analyst, one software engineer, and one R&D lab executive.

The actual number of Members of Congress with engineering degrees in their background is larger, including Members who started their professional careers as engineers and moved onto other occupations before being elected to Congress.

So, who are the engineers (including allied computing fields) currently serving in the 116th Congress?

NameHouse/SenateStateBackground
Tony CardenasHouseCaliforniaElectrical Engineer
Sean CastenHouseIllinoisBiochemical Engineer
Chris CollinsHouseNew YorkMechanical Engineer
T.J. CoxHouseCaliforniaChemical Engineer
Joe CunninghamHouseSouth CarolinaOcean Engineering
Steve DainesSenateMontanaChemical Engineer
Bill FosterHouseIllinoisPhysicist
Martin HeinrichSenateNew MexicoMechanical Engineer
Kevin HernHouseOklahomaAerospace Engineer
Chrissy HoulahanHousePennsylvaniaIndustrial Engineer
Joseph KennedyHouseMassachusettsEngineering Management Science
Dan LipinskiHouseIllinoisMechanical Engineer
Elaine LuriaHouseVirginiaNuclear Engineer
Thomas MassieHouseKentuckyElectrical/Mechanical Engineer
David McKinleyHouseWest VirginiaCivil Engineering
Jerry McNerneyHouseCaliforniaMathematics (employed as Senior Engineer by U.S. Windpower)
Jackie RosenSenateNevadaComputer Programmer and Software Developer
Brad SchneiderHouseIllinoisIndustrial Engineering
Paul TonkoHouseNew YorkMechanical/industrial Engineer
Daniel WebsterHouseFloridaElectrical Engineer

Not listed are those with STEM degrees in chemistry, medicine, dentistry or veterinary sciences.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, there are 1.68 million engineers in the United States, representing approximately half of one percent of the total American population of over 328.2 million in 2019. So, in that sense, engineers are doing quite well with a disproportionate 4% share of Congress. And that percentage increased significantly over the last two election cycles, reflecting the importance of technology to our economy and the growing awareness within the engineering community of the increasing technical complexity of many of the issues facing our nation.

On the other hand, 40% (or 214 Members of Congress) hold law degrees, and more than half of Congress is comprised of career politicians who worked their way up from staff positions or state legislative offices.

On any issue of specific concern to the engineering community, the 4 percent minority with engineering or computing backgrounds in Congress are well positioned to champion technology-related legislation, but must be very persuasive to convince the majority to adopt a systems engineering, problem-solving approach to public policy-making on other issues.

Success also assumes that the 4 percent start out with a consensus on how that should done, and/or what the desired policy outcome should be. Apart from a general shared belief that technology is an important contributor to our economy and well-being, strong policy consensus on many topics — such as federal research priorities, net neutrality or funding of climate research — is still typically not the case. Local constituent politics and political ideology continue to be the primary drivers of public policy preferences for most of the engineers currently serving in Congress, much like their colleagues with other professional backgrounds.

Still, it is encouraging that the American public values the expertise and skills of engineers, as shown by their increasing willingness to elect them to Congress.


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