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The Truth About S. 1253

Posted By John M. Palatiello, Friday, July 7, 2017

The Truth About S. 1253

A bill recently introduced in the United States Senate by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and others, known as the Geospatial Data Act, S.1253, has caused a stir among some geospatial organizations.  Primarily developed at the urging of the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC), National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), the National Association of Counties (NACo), the legislation is intended to improve the governance and coordination of federal geospatial activities.  MAPPS and NSPS were among the organizations consulted by the bill’s sponsor and it reflects many of these organizations’ suggestions.

A provision in the bill reinforces and helps clarify the application of the Brooks Act’s qualifications based selection (QBS) process to surveying and mapping activities. Opponents of the bill, and the QBS provision, make several claims that are opinions, not facts.

Some claim the Brooks Act is “exclusionary procurement” that would “limit competition”.  In fact, since 1984, the Brooks Act has been recognized as a “competitive procedure” in a Federal law known as the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA), which means “procedures under which the head of an agency enters into a contract pursuant to full and open competition”.

Moreover, it has long been recognized that agencies receive more proposals using the QBS process than when price competition is utilized.  Rather than limiting competition, QBS attracts more competition.

It has also been claimed that geospatial services are part of information technology (IT), not the field of architecture and engineering (AE).  Again, that may be one person’s opinion, but the facts show no Federal law, policy or classification lumps geospatial with IT.  Rather, surveying and mapping, and now “geospatial” activities have long been considered part of the broad field of architecture and engineering, not only in procurement, but employment and other government categorization, including the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS).

Another attack opines that the Brooks Act is anti-small business.  Again, the facts dismiss this erroneous allegation.  According to the most recent data available from the Small Business Administration, small businesses receive 37 percent of all surveying and mapping contracts.  The national goal across all industries and profession, set by Congress, is 23 percent.  Thus, small business is very successful competing under the Brooks Act, and small firms do better under the QBS than under bidding.

These opinions are predicated on a complete misunderstanding, or an intentional misrepresentation, of the Brooks Act.  Claims that the law, and the Geospatial Data Act, would limit competition on federal geospatial contracts to “licensed A&E firms”.  That's not the case in current federal procurement under the Brooks Act.  While any services that fall under applicable state licensing law for architecture, engineering, surveying, and mapping must follow the Brooks Act’s qualifications based selection process and comply with such licensing, other related services are not subject to such licensing.  Major contract programs such as the USGS GPSC contracts that serve 3DEP among other activities, the NOAA Coastal Geospatial Services contracts that serve Digital Coast and other activities, the USACE Center of Expertise for Photogrammetric Mapping contracts, the DHS Remote Sensing to Support Incident Management and Homeland Security contracts, and many others all contract based on qualifications without limiting competition to licensed A&E firms. This fact is memorialized in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers policy regulations which state, “all surveying and mapping procured by USACE must use Brooks Act procedures … In USACE, the performance of surveying and mapping services will not be limited to A-E firms, but may include surveying and mapping professionals such as licensed surveyors, geodesists, and cartographers.”

This principle is clearly stated, almost verbatim, in the Geospatial Data Act, (“data collected through the provision of services performed by professionals such as surveyors, photogrammetrists, hydrographers, geodesists, or cartographers”).

Finally, some allege that a case brought against the Federal government for failing to properly implement in regulations the intent of Congress in several legislative acts resulted in “summary judgement in ruling against the MAPPS plaintiffs”.  In fact, the case brought by MAPPS and other associations was dismissed for lack of standing, not on the facts or legal issues in the matter.

To use one of today’s popular terms, these allegations constitute “fake news”.  The opinion attacks are without merit or factual basis.  MAPPS has worked closely with Senator Hatch and others, particularly NSGIC, on this legislation.  Senator Hatch’s staff welcomed and considered input from all interested parties and made drafts of the bill available for comment prior to the bill’s introduction.  Rather than participate, a number of groups sat on the sidelines and then lobbed grenades from the outside, a full month after the bill was formally introduced.  This does nothing to help advance the goal of Senator Hatch and his bipartisan cosponsors, which is to provide sorely needed reform to the governance, organization and coordination of federal geospatial activities.

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