Thought Leader: A National Test

No way! Why not? I don’t know? The PLSS, the Colonial States, fifty different legislatures, Ohio State beat Michigan, or the other 49 states can’t possibly know how to stretch rope in your holler. Ironically California has perhaps the most stringent state test but a California court can appoint an expert witness land surveyor without a California license.

Let’s identify subject matters that are consistent with every state. 1.) Geodesy, 2.) State plane coordinate projections, 3.) topographic mapping, 4.) photogrammetric control surveys, and 5.) construction layout. These are most certainly portable subjects in any jurisdiction. Yeah, sure there are local nuances but these topics are governed by the same science regardless of the jurisdiction. They also lay out well in a textbook, on a test form and flow freely among academia.

I know from firsthand experience that the NCEES does a very good job of assessing minimum competence in the measurement sciences. NCEES is the best game in town when it comes to bulletproofing a fair, accurate, and secure test. Every state accepts the NCEES test credentials as a basis of competence for the portable subjects. So, we’ve got that part of the machine built and running well.

The traditional challenge for NCEES has been its fifty-plus member boards asserting individual requirements of state mandated survey tests. Local regulations and bodies of law differ from state to state to the extent of requiring a supplemental test demonstrating that a practitioner is familiar with the law. State tests vary from a mail home form to a full day proctored affair.

Colonial and PLSS States routinely divorce themselves from each other because of a stupid blue book. The Colonials have no genuine use for it whereas the PLSS crowd seems to misinterpret their own role under state authority and promote that book as the ultimate adjudicator in a boundary dispute. Well, it’s not, nor is that the book’s fault. The facts are 1.) most of us will not actually work in the federal arena under Congressional authority and, 2.) the lion’s share of patented sections are already subdivided and noticed by deeds. That leads us to a national test addressing the common elements of boundary surveying under every state’s authority.

I think we are 90% of the way there with the NCEES. The scientific, mathematical, and mechanical facets are well covered. However, the courts of every state need an assurance that the surveyor is proficient in understanding lawful topics. A detailed national test vetted by judicial subject matter experts (SME) may offer a measure of proficiency across state lines. An NCEES implementation featuring juris doctors and judges in the mix of SME’s evaluating a boundary law principles test may ease state’s concerns with portability. Formulating test content from a strong handful of exemplary supreme court decisions and leading land boundary law publications may provide fair access to test content and background materials.

We are all experts capable of retracing a boundary under a specific body of law. A look at numerous court decisions reveals fundamental elements across every state when it comes to retracement surveys. I’m not so sure that the courts see much of a functional difference between retracement surveys whether in colonial or PLSS states. The purpose is to recover evidence leading to an accurate reconstruction of the lines as originally marked on the ground. A bigger challenge lies in demonstrating our proficiency through a nationally appealing test of our judicial role as surveyors.

About the Author

Jason Foose

Jason Foose is a Professional Surveyor licensed in multiple jurisdictions.