Washington View: Surveying Congress

A 171Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Does the legislation that Congress introduces, and rules made by the federal agencies affect the average surveyor? Should the average surveyor even care about what goes on in Washington? The short answer to both questions is a clear and resounding "YES"!

Many surveyors in the United States are small business owners with small staffs, or they are solo practitioners. What happens in Washington affects them as much as it affects the big guys with 100plus person firms. The problem is that the big guys have the resources to influence what goes on in Washington, or at least they can easily adapt to new rules and legislation. The small business owners, however, may be too busy managing their businesses to worry about what is going on in Washington. Sadly, they miss out on opportunities for lucrative work with the federal government, or learning about rules that affect the way they do business.

The late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil once said, "All politics is local." Of course, not every piece of legislation or rule affects everyone the same. One general subject that affects many surveying companies is federal outsourcing. Almost every federal agency uses maps in one way or another, and after September 11, the need for maps in every agency is growing. In 2004, the federal government will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on surveying and map production alone. The problem is that there are not enough mapping specialists and cartographers in the federal government to produce all of the needed maps.

That’s where the private sector comes in. Private sector companies are needed to carry the extra load of developing the maps. Federal agencies have said that they wish to work with the private sector and they value the input and assistance provided by the private sector mapping firms. When it comes to surveying and mapping of the local towns and neighborhoods, the federal government plans on using the local surveyors to do the job. So how do surveyors find out about this?

One such example of survey-related legislation that went through Congress last year related to the harnessing of the Federal Prison Industries. FPI uses federal prisoners to produce goods and services for the federal government. It recently proposed to offer the service of performing surveys and scanning those surveys and maps for the federal government. If allowed to go through with this proposal, federal prisoners would be doing the work done by licensed surveyors for a fraction of the cost. Besides the obvious security concerns of giving federal prisoners access to sensitive and private data, there is also the concern that the surveys are being done by people who are not educated or licensed in the surveying profession. Additionally, federal prisoners would be taking work away from law abiding citizens. Legislation was proposed by Congress to slow down the proposed expansion of FPI so that it does not get into to surveying and mapping field. That legislation eventually passed the House in 2003 (H.R. 1829.RFS) and the Senate will be working on their version of the bill in 2004 (S. 346). Again, ACSM worked with other business organizations to pass the legislation.

Another example of how the rules and legislation made by the federal government affects state and local surveyors is the recent FCC ruling regarding unsolicited faxes. The FCC recently ruled that businesses could no longer send unsolicited faxes as a form of advertisement. This ruling would affect many small businesses that use this method of advertisement, including small survey firms. Thanks to some concern voiced by many businessrelated groups, including ACSM, the FCC decided to postpone enactment of the ruling until at least 2005.

My goal for this column is to discuss the status of both federal legislation and state legislation as it relates to state and local surveyors. I welcome your comments and questions.

Laurence Socci is Chief Executive Manager of The CLA Group, a government consulting, lobbying and advocacy firm in Washington, D.C. He is also the government affairs consultant for the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM).

A 171Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE