A 50Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

NCEES and Surveying Licensing
I am writing to respond to the two recent articles in the March issue of American Surveyor (by Mr. Elgin and Mr. Widmer).

After reading both articles, I was pleased to notice the amount of harmony between the "suggestions" by Mr. Elgin and the mission statement and position of NCEES as represented by Mr. Widmer. I believe that the offered positions for the many discussion points of this conversation are not far off from each other and agreement by all sides can be reached with continued outreach and conversation. As a licensed land surveyor who has taken (and passed) 23 different state-specific land surveying examinations over the past 18 years, I would like to offer a few observations/comments for consideration in future discussions.

There are many similarities between the state specific examinations in the states where I have tested. I have also noted regional similarities in examinations in adjacent states. At first blush this might seem to offer evidence to support Mr. Widmer’s statement that "A study done a few years ago found that even though there are at least fifty different state specific surveying exams, almost 90% of the questions are the same on every exam, or at least they contain a similar question." However the fact that must not be lost when properly analyzing these observations is that the answer to these similar questions can be very different. The rules for PLSS surveys in every state do not always exactly follow only the BLM rules of construction. Sometimes the correct answer to a PLSS question posed in Mississippi will not be the same as the correct answer for that same question asked in Alabama. In fact, the correct answer to a single PLSS question asked in Alabama will have different answers depending on the date that said PLSS survey was performed. Heck, everybody knows that at one point in time, before the area that currently encompass Alabama and Mississippi became two distinctly different states (i.e. when said area was Alabama and Mississippi didn’t exist yet) some areas were surveyed under the 10 x 10 (yep, 100 sections per township) rules issued by the federal government, right? The correct answer to the exact same Riparian Boundary question in Florida could be completely different if that same question was asked in Washington State. The correct answer to many simple "Senior Rights" questions in Florida will most certainly not be the correct answer in Pennsylvania. These facts not only place Mr. Widmer’s statement in a fundamentally different context, but also point out the added potential problem of being trained and educated "incorrectly" for one’s entire career before heading to that next state in which you think you want to start surveying.

Lastly, the answer Mr. Widmer’s question of "Can I not perform my due diligence before doing a job in another state without taking a state specific exam once I have already proven my professional status" is simple. Absolutely not! Your "professional status" is completely unrelated to your proven ability to protect the public in a state in which you are not licensed. The entire purpose of a state-specific examination (and the surveying license in the first place) is to ensure that a practicing professional has the minimal education, experience and competence level necessary to protect the public, not that you might be able to do it.
–Michael J Zoltek, LS, CP, CFedS, GISP

J’ accuse… Hold the onions. Under the subheading of the problems with attracting more people to the Profession, Mr. Elgin has written "Exam issues, if there are any, are not related to young people being attracted to surveying." What??? I have to admit that I had to pause and wonder if Mr. Elgin has been indeed too long out in the sun. This may come as a surprise, that the students at the California State University–Fresno–Department of Geomatics are aware of the issues in an exam, to the extent that they feel related to the subject matter. You would have to admit that if enrolled in the department, that student has been, is being, and hopes to be a professional surveyor.

Under the heading of the PE model, Mr. Elgin writes " Actually (and I’m sure NCEES has the data), what if exam results show that it really doesn’t make any difference if the person has any experience or not, about half pass and half fail." No doubt about it, the sun got him. So, being the number crunchers we image, take 100 examinees. Half passing would be 50. It has been my experience that of those that successfully pass the exam, 85% have at least the minimum amount of field experience. That would mean that of the 50 passing the exam, 42 have experience and 8 do not.

If you flew helicopters between Qui Nhon and Cam Ranh Bay along the coast of central Annam Province you and I might have shared some flight time together.
–BJ Tucker PE, LS
Inyokern, California

Elgin responds
In boundary surveying the exception to the rule can always be shown. The successful surveying program at Cal State-Fresno is certainly the exception in surveying education. It is understandable students in that program are attuned to national professional topics of the kind discussed herein.

The Dumbing Down of America
The articles in the March 2015 issue of American Surveyor by Marc Cheves and Dick Elgin are spot on. The education and apprenticeship programs in the USA seem to be on an increasing downward spiral. I forget the author but the following quote pretty much sums it up "In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in College." That’s real progress.

That progress follows the employment picture in the USA today. Almost all shop classes have been eliminated from high school curriculum’s, which follows our government allowing what were decent paying manufacturing and production jobs to migrate offshore to slave labor countries and sold here without tariffs but much higher profits to the companies making them. This Country is about 20-30 years behind Western Europe where all my wife’s relatives and friend’s kids are in the hotel/food service industry except the couple that work for the government, which is where I see our employment choices going.

I always say "Follow the Money" whenever a new law/rule is proposed. In the case of NCEES they make money by people taking their tests, the more tests given the more money they make. I am sure they have studied the subject and determined that more students/apprentices would take the test prior to having the required experience. Most would probably fail the test requiring a retest and even more money to NCEES.

CBT has to be a windfall for NCEES. Write a couple dozen multiple guess tests per license, load them in a computer and with almost no labor costs watch the money roll in. I am sure that as they streamlined the system they passed the savings on to the test applicants. ROTFLMAO.
–W. T. Foster, P.L.S. CA

SCOTUS and the California Coastline
Legislation without understanding the complex geodetic issues involved causes more long-term problems than immediate, focused, short-term solutions, which is usually the intent of such legislation. Lawmakers and regulatory agencies are usually trying to quiet a contentious issue when creating such confusing and self-defeating rules, reacting only to an immediate situation, rather than honestly and effectively spending the time, energy, and (more importantly) resources (funding, professional consulting outside the agencies involved, and time) to create a lasting and competent solution.

The only valid and consistently locatable call in the document appears to be the ambulatory and dynamic California coastline. Calls placed from this line would only be valid for the time of the survey and determination of the time-referenced 3 mile limit, if you had only one set of units to use, and ownership of rights adjacent to the 3 mile line could foreseeably change jurisdiction over time, based on the dynamic nature of the Pacific coast. A regulatory and taxing monster is emerging from the sea in sunny California!

Think I’ll confine my surveys in Washington State to anything above the upland boundary!
–Rick Kilpatrick
Owner, San Poil Surveying

Just got back from vacation and read your excellent article. Thanks for sending it. It is what we call "tight" short, to the point, and not self- serving. I manage contracts and projects for the Flood Control District of Maricopa County AZ. We spend millions on aerial mapping and surveying. New consultants get my tiresome bromide (which I actually believe in).

1) The professional is measured by his or her conduct when things go wrong. We expect "correct" all the time but people and companies are human. Just admit it and we will work it out. I can extend deadlines and mitigate certain other things." Just don’t ask for any more money because you messed up. Lie to me and it will be your last contract with FCD."

The main reason I was hired 15 years ago was to run mapping contracts because the District had been screwed over so bad by certain aerial mappers that something had to be done. You ask around and will find that we are the cruelest aerial mapping checkers in the U.S. I get flak for it but we don’t get bad maps….period. You probably already know that a million dollar floodplain mapping job can turn into a five million dollar study. It would be very embarrassing for that study to be wrong based on bad mapping. With the Maricopa County GDACS control system, VRS connections and RTK rovers it isn’t that hard or expensive.

The next outfits trying stick us was dirt contractors. So three years ago we bought a Leica C10 scanner for stockpiles and borrow pits. Although never having served in the military I liken it to the fabled Browning .50 caliber machine gun that is still in service and has been since 1934: It stops fights. Just the fact that we have the scanner discourages "innovative" load counts and "adjusted" ground surveys.

Okay enough for now. Please stay in touch. I have few, if any, true surveyors in this building to relate to.
–John Stock, PS
Via the Internet

I sincerely appreciated your article on ethics. Sadly, I’ve encountered far more ethical dilemmas in my career than I would have liked. When I encounter mistakes made by others that I am confident are in fact errors, I approach them as one professional to another and simply mention that, "I think I may have encountered an error in your work. I’ve attached copies of my measurements to support my claim. I’d like you to affirm my assumptions, check my computations or provide corroborating evidence that refutes my conclusions based upon your research. I am more than happy to be dissuaded." Happily, I can think of only a couple of instances in my nearly 50-year career where I’ve been ignored, rebuffed or threatened. I do appreciate it when the offending surveyor acknowledges their error, corrects it and files an amended survey. I really appreciate this when that self-same surveyor is no longer practicing.

What I find particularly galling however, is when another surveyor has chosen to disregard one of my monuments and set his/ her own in the vicinity without letting me know of the disagreement with my location (your friend Jeff Lucas has a few things to say about this subject). THAT is just as unethical!

Though I applaud the "canons" of the ISPLS, I consider them to be directed at others who might be disinclined to follow them. They should be part of the fabric of every surveyor’s code of conduct, regardless of where they’re licensed.
–Gregory A. Crites, PLS
David Evans and Associates, Inc.

Good article. In my mind, ethics are what you do when no one else is watching.
–Jay Satalich, P.L.S.
Supervisor, Geospatial Branch Office of Surveys
Department of Transportation,
District 7, State of California

Very nice, succinct article. I, of course, agree with your premise & theme. Well done.
–Tony Cavell
Via the Internet

A 50Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE