NCARB CEO Visits California AIA Components

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AIACC, AIA California Council, NCARB, National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, Mike Armstrong, Michael Armstrong, certification, reciprocity, six month rule, six-month rule, reciprocal certification, ARE, Architects Registration Exam, IDP, Intern Development Program

Michael Armstrong, CEO of NCARB

Licensing, reciprocity and the relationship with The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) are oftentimes hot-button topics for the architectural profession. In an effort to address these issues, Michael Armstrong, CEO of NCARB, has arranged three outreach visits with California AIA chapters this year. Armstrong, who joined NCARB in 2011, has expressed his commitment to improving NCARB’s member services, and its relationship with its constituents; this was the focus of the two visits he has made so far.

Armstrong’s first visit was to San Diego on January 23, marking the first time in memory that an NCARB CEO had traveled to meet with the members at a California AIA chapter. More than 40 members of AIA San Diego, AIACC staff, and members of the AIACC’s Academy for Emerging Professionals attended the meetings. They shared concerns and open dialogue regarding NCARB’s programs—initiatives supporting the path to licensure from internship to examination to reciprocal certification.

Major topics of discussion were recent changes to the Architects Registration Exam (ARE) and Intern Development Program (IDP). It should come as no surprise that NCARB’s record maintenance and ARE fees were discussed at this meeting; what did come as a surprise was that the cost of the ARE is subsidized by the fees paid by certificate holder. It was also pointed out that, while fees had increased due to an ARE security breach, the large increase was also a necessary consequence of NCARB’s failure to raise fees incrementally over the past ten years in response to annual increases in the cost of living. Armstrong indicated that going forward the NCARB fees would adhere to a schedule issued far in advance with linkage to common indicators such as the Consumer Price Index. There was also discussion concerning NCARB’s business process re-engineering efforts around customer service and ways to improve information response times to record holders.

Another subject brought up was the newly enacted Six-Month Rule, which requires interns to submit their training hours in reporting periods of no longer than six months and within two months of each reporting period’s completion. The Six-Month Rule has been criticized as being a problem for women and is viewed as a career penalty to those who choose a part-time schedule, or a temporary leave of absence from work, to start a family during this same period of time. At the January meetings, Armstrong indicated he is paying close attention to possible unintended consequences of the rule, and if necessary, amenable to exploring the possibility of extending the Six-Month Rule’s allotted reporting time.

Armstrong visited a California chapter for the second time on June 26, this time attending meetings at AIA San Francisco. He met with chapter leadership and over 50 AIASF members, including San Francisco firm principals and Emerging Professionals. Having heard California members’ concerns during his January visit, Armstrong now reported out on NCARB’s efforts to respond to these concerns.

To reduce the impact of its fee increases, NCARB has opted to make some allowances for certificate holders whose records have lapsed due to financial hardship. Armstrong also noted that NCARB is reevaluating the form and content of licensing exams, specifically in response to concerns about testing methodology. This is another issue that members raised during Armstrong’s January visit; many in the profession would like to see the exams incorporate more of the critical thinking and creativity at the heart of architecture.

Armstrong’s third series of meetings will be held at AIA Los Angeles in later this year. As he has emphasized in these first two visits, Armstrong and the NCARB Board of Directors are committed to an open and transparent dialogue with record holders and licensure candidates, and they will continue working with the AIA to strengthen the future of the profession. We have heard positive feedback from the members who have met with Armstrong so far, noting that they appreciated his candor and openness to their ideas.

Do you have any subjects you would like NCARB to address? Please add your comments below.


Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA

Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA and Executive Vice President of the AIA California Council (AIACC), is the former interim Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C.

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  1. avatar
    Michael J. Armstrong, CEO, NCARB

    First, I would like to express sincere appreciation to the AIA California Council components in San Diego and San Francisco for inviting me to engage in a dialogue with your members – I look forward to continuing the conversation in Los Angeles later this year. These face-to-face sessions offer an invaluable opportunity for us to meet our commitment to transparency, and provide an open forum for discussing topics and issues meaningful both to your California constituents and the profession as a whole.

    In the last two years, NCARB’s outreach initiatives have connected us with more than 10,000 emerging professionals and practitioners across the country—at schools of architecture, AIA components, firms, and professional conferences. This type of outreach plays a critical role in supporting the path to licensure, and it also gives NCARB the chance to actively listen and respond to your concerns and ideas.

    As we consider the future of the profession, here are some facts about NCARB that you might find useful:

    • NCARB’s responsibilities. NCARB exists to collectively serve the 54 architectural registration boards in their responsibility to protect the public health, safety, and welfare through the regulation of the practice of architecture. The Council provides a variety of services that could not be supported by state organizations within their state budgets. Those services include development of model laws and program requirements through nationwide representation at Annual Meetings, Board meetings and volunteer committee meetings; record keeping, including continuous upgrades driven by new technology and customer demand; and, a single national exam involving test development, administration and delivery. NCARB services are designed through the efforts of practicing architects, who volunteer for our committees, in partnership with a consolidated staff and national contractors charged with implementing examinations, guidelines for interns and architects, reciprocal license certification and alternative licensure eligibility programs. These and other activities ease the burden of individual jurisdictions and maximize the ability to establish consistent regulations across the U.S. NCARB also promotes information regarding best practices, provides data regarding current practices, trends and opinions, and seeks consensus across jurisdictional boundaries regarding the best means to assure that a licensed architect is prepared to protect the public.

    • NCARB Fees. The services we provide for our customers and Member Boards ensure efficiencies in the processes that lead to licensure and certification. The business model supported by our Board for many years is based on subsidizing the shortfall in revenues for examination and internship with revenues from our certificate-holder fees. The philosophy behind this model is that it is better to keep the “entry level fees” lower and ask those who are licensed and practicing in multiple jurisdictions to pick up the slack. We can do a better job in forecasting and designing fee increases. To that end, NCARB will end the practice of introducing larger, unexpected fee increases punctuated by years of no increases. As noted in Paul Welch’s article above, any future fee increases will adhere to a schedule issued in advance and tied to a major economic indicator, the Consumer Price Index, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also are looking for ways to reduce or cap fees and have done just that in the area of “lapsed certificate holder reactivation.” Instead of assessing a penalty for every lapsed year, we will now cap the reactivation fees at five years. We also announced an “amnesty program” earlier this year which brought over 1,000 lapsed certificate holders back to NCARB.

    • NCARB’s staff. We are proud of the important strides made in the last several years to improve customer service, upgrade our technology, and expand our outreach to better include and inform our many stakeholders. As we have addressed shortfalls in our performance, we have sought to hire staff with the right talent and attitude to focus on continuous improvement. We pay fair and competitive wages to assure that our commitment to improving service is addressed. A $20 million business with 100 employees requires a senior team that is experienced, sophisticated and adept at supporting 54 jurisdictions in their regulatory mission and yet flexible to address the challenges facing our members and customers today. We regularly check our salaries against those of other non-profit organizations to make sure that we avoid inflation but also avoid losing top talent.

    • NCARB accountability. Through the individuals appointed by your governors to serve on the jurisdictional licensing boards, you have a voice in the governance and finances of NCARB. Each of the 54 licensing boards has a vote at the NCARB Annual Meeting and helps elect the NCARB Board and officers. The NCARB budget is reviewed and approved each year by the 14-person Board of Directors. A subset of the Board participates in an annual review of an independent financial audit conducted by an outside auditing firm. For those interested in learning more about NCARB’s financial status, our Form 990 submittals to the IRS are publicly available.

    Thanks again to the AIA California Council and the folks at AIA San Diego and AIA San Francisco for inviting us to the table and allowing us to respond to your concerns. We hope that our customers and other stakeholders in the profession will take advantage of the myriad opportunities to meet with our staff at outreach events throughout the year. These events are announced in advance, and many are open to the public. NCARB remains committed to providing the highest level of service to the profession, the public, and our Member Boards, and we invite you to share your thoughts and ideas on how we can work together to strengthen our incredible profession. As always please feel free to contact NCARB Customer Service at or 202/879-0520 with your feedback, and we hope to see you at a future event.


    Michael J. Armstrong, CEO
    National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)

  2. avatar
    Robert Ira Schwartz AIA

    Dear Mr. Welch:

    Frankly speaking, the fees charged by NCARB for its “service” to NCARB applicants and continuing NCARB certificate-holders are grossly excessive and disproportionate to the actual costs of fulfilling their limited mission. Many of us in the profession have come to view this as both a scam and yet another unnecessarily cost burden piled on top of so many others.

    As examples;

    (1) NCARB’s charges several hundred dollars for verifying the validity of an existing licensee’s certification with an individual state licensing board; a function which can be done via a secured/encrypted data link in a matter of seconds.

    (2) NCARB charges several more hundreds of dollars for verifying that an applicant has graduated from an accredited architectural school. This transcript-retrieval & evaluation function can also be performed on line in a matter of seconds via a secured/encrypted data link directly with the registrars of the schools concerned.

    Although it is listed as a 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization, many of us find it more than curious that the financial records of NCARB are not available for public examination. Given the huge fees that NCARB charges for so little in the way of actual service; where does all the money go? Who in their organization are making what kind of salaries? What are their office expenses? Is it really necessary that, along with the highest-paid corporate lobbyists, NCARB maintains hyper-expensive primary offices at 1801 K Street NW in Washington D.C., six blocks from the White House?

    This kind of ‘failure to disclose’ seems more than a little bit fishy. AIACC should demand full financial disclosure by NCARB or otherwise suggest that California recuse itself from this self-serving organization.

    Robert I. Schwartz, M.Arch., California Registered Architect C-14545

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