Monday, January 16, 2012

NOAA's Reorganization and Transfer

NOAA’s  Arc de Triomphe?

President Obama has proposed a reorganization plan to consolidate the Federal government’s business, export and commercial functions into one agency.  The Commerce Department, to be renamed, will include the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Trade and Development Agency and Small Business Administration.  USTR, TDA and SBA have been speakers and participants in recent MAPPS meetings.

Moving out of the Commerce Department will be the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The president proposes to move it to the Department of the Interior.

This raises a series of interesting questions for members of MAPPS and the geospatial community at large.

Our member firms interact with NOAA in a variety of ways.  The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) interfaces with virtually every surveying and mapping practitioner.  All the prime contractors, and a number of subcontractors, on NOAA’s shoreline mapping program, are MAPPS member firms. 

Virtually every prime contractor, and numerous subcontractors, in NOAA’s hydrographic survey program, is a MAPPS member firm.  The work done at NOAA’s Coastal Services Center (CSC) in Charleston, SC, again through MAPPS member firms as prime and sub contractors, and the way it utilizes the private sector for geospatial products and services to provide assistance to states and localities on the nation’s coasts, has been cited as a “best practices” model that should be more extensively emulated throughout NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS). The Office of Space Commercialization, once a separate entity in Commerce, was merged into NOAA during the Bush Administration.  And our member firms that operate high resolution commercial remote sensing satellites are licensed by NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), through NOAA's Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs Office (CRSRAO), and it is the home of the Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRS).

One of the reasons for the reorganization was first articulated by President Obama in his State of the Union Address last year, and subsequently repeated.  "The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater," he quipped. "And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked."
There is already a proliferation of geospatial activities within the Department of the Interior.  This has been well documented in a GAO report on Federal geospatial activities (Geospatial Information: Better Coordination Needed to Identify and Reduce Duplicative Investments, GAO-04-703, June 2004) and the 1998 NAPA study (Geographic Information for the 21st Century, National Academy of Public Administration, January 1998).

In a Congressional hearing last March, the following colloquy took place between Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and MAPPS Executive Director John Palatiello:

“Mr. Lamborn.  Mr. Palatiello, you mentioned government duplication in the mapping area. Can you be more specific on what can be done to avoid this duplication and the expense that goes along with duplication? And I would like to say, I approve of what -- and am happy that President Obama in his State of the Union address addressed duplication. He was talking about salmon, I think, and two different programs. And he used a humorous example, but it is unfortunate that we have to, in this time of huge debts, pay money for duplicative programs. Please continue.
 Mr. Palatiello. You are exactly right, and the President did say that salmon in the freshwater are the responsibility of the Interior Department, and once it reaches saltwater, it is the Commerce Department. And then he said he hears it gets more complicated once they are smoked.  Well, the same thing can be said about mapping. You want a topographic map? You go to USGS. You want to add a flood plain? You go to FEMA. You want to show the shoreline? You go to NOAA. So the same type of stovepiping and lack of coordination that the President was talking about with regard to salmon is a direct corollary to the same problem we have with regard to mapping. Now, to the Administration's credit, they have launched something called the geospatial platform, which is an attempt to build a cloud computing environment for sharing of data. And I think that is a very good step in the right direction. The problem is the structure, though. When you have 40-plus Federal agencies doing a variety of different types of mapping, that is a problem.”
If NOAA is moved to the Department of the Interior, should it be part of USGS or be a distinct entity within the department.  Should all the mapping, charting, geodesy, remote sensing and geospatial activities of NOAA be integrated with and currently spread among various agencies (USGS, BLM, NPS, FWS and others) into a consolidated geospatial bureau reporting directly to the Secretary of the Interior?

NOAA operates the NOAA Corps, a uniformed military-like workforce with officers and a personnel system that differs from regular civil service. The largest portion of the NOAA Corps officers is in the mapping, charting and geodesy activities of NOAA. Will the NOAA Corps be dismantled under the reorganization plan?  Terminating the NOAA Corps was proposed by then-Vice President Al Gore in his “Reinventing Government” program, but opposition for the NOAA Corps officers and their families forced the idea to be dropped.  Imposing the NOAA Corps on the Interior Department would be a difficult personnel transition, either by dismantling the Corps and ingesting it into the civilian personnel system, or asking Interior to simply assume responsibility for management of the NOAA Corps.
The NESDIS program, which licenses high resolution commercial remote sensing satellites systems, may not belong in Interior.  This is a regulatory and business promotion activity.  When the licensing of commercial satellite remote sensing systems was begun during the Clinton Administration, there was a heated debate over whether the licensing agency should be in the State or Commerce Department.  There was fear that there would be too much concern over foreign policy issues if this office were in State, resulting in too much regulation and restriction on the satellite operators.  Should this activity move to Interior, which is not a regulatory or business promotion agency, or remain with the renamed Department of Commerce?

Another question surrounding a move of NOAA to USGS is the fact that historically, USGS has been too willing to accept new responsibilities, but failed to secure sufficient funding to support traditional, not to mention new, responsibilities.  This ends up hurting existing programs.  This has been particularly true of the cooperative topographic mapping program in USGS, which was recently subject to re-programming to cover the deficit in operational income from LANDSAT.
When legislation to dismantle the Department of Commerce was prominent in Congress in the mid-1990’s, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) introduced a bill (H.R. 2667, 105th Congress, 1997) that would have transferred the mapping, charting, and geodesy functions to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The bill also provided that “the Secretary of the Army, acting through the Chief of Engineers of Army Corps of Engineers, shall terminate any functions transferred … that are performed by the private sector or obtain by contract from the private sector those functions that are commercial in nature and are necessary to carry out inherently governmental functions.”  Does the Corps of Engineers make more sense as a new home for the NOS functions of NOAA?  There are a number of reasons why such a transfer is worthy of consideration.

There are NOAA and Corps of Engineers programs that are quite similar.  NOAA conducts hydrographic surveys and publishes charts on the coasts, shorelines and Great Lakes.  The Corps of Engineers conducts hydrographic surveys and publishes charts of the inland waterway system.  While accurate data is not presently available, at the time of the introduction of Rep. Royce’s bill, the Corps of Engineers had more geodesists on staff than NOAA, even though NOAA operates the NGS.  The Corps is the most experienced procurer of mapping, charting and geodesy services in the Federal Government.  The Corps has literally written the book (actually a manual) on Brooks Act, QBS contracting, and teaches a course for government officials.  Several NOAA personnel who award contracts for shoreline mapping, hydrographic surveys and the CSC, have taken the Corps’ course, as have those in USGS.  While both NOAA and USGS have become adept at using QBS, the depth and breadth of the Corps of Engineers is unsurpassed in the Federal government. Finally, integrating the NOAA Corps into the military personnel system already in place in the Army would be significantly easier than integrating or managing the NOAA Corps in the Interior Department. 

The reorganization plan must be approved by Congress.  There will be an opportunity for the geospatial community’s voice to be heard.  Share your views and join in the discussion.

Flightline Converges with New Media

After more than 25 years of publication, FLIGHTLINE has come to an end.  The last edition of the venerable MAPPS newsletter was published in December.

2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of MAPPS.  The association was founded in 1982 and FLIGHTLINE was launched in December 1985, ending a 26 year run.

In its place, we’re implementing a change for the better.  Rather than a bimonthly PDF newsletter, we are introducing a more frequent Blog.  Presently, the MAPPS Blog can be found at In the future, MAPPS members will receive an email with a link to the blog.
Why the change? 
Media and communications are changing.  Many firms and organizations are migrating from newsletters to a blogs, as this new media provides more frequent and timely dissemination of news and information.  The blog will post information more frequently than the newsletter and the news, information and commentary will be fresher and more relevant to the members of MAPPS. 

Moreover, the name FLIGHTLINE has become dated and less applicable to the services many MAPPS member firms provide.  With the advent of satellite remote sensing, airborne LiDAR, ground and mobile mapping systems and other data acquisitions techniques that today’s geospatial firms utilize, the idea of a flightline is becoming less descriptive of the profession’s activities.

To make this transition, we need your help!  We’re launching a contest to name the new blog.  Put on your creative thinking cap, let loose your marketing and branding acumen, and give us your best ideas.  Send your suggestion to Nick Palatiello, MAPPS Marketing Communications Manager, at  There will be fun prizes and recognition for the winning entry.

Many firms and organizations are migrating from a newsletter to a blog, as this new media provides more frequent and timely dissemination of news and information.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Federal Prison Industries Reform Introduced in Congress

A bipartisan group of House members has introduced H.R. 3634, the "Federal Prison Industries Competition in Contracting Act of 2011".

Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) offered the bill on December 12 with cosponsors that include Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Barney Frank (D-MA), and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

This bill is virtually identical to H.R. 2965, the bill that passed the House in 2006 by a 362-57 vote (Roll no. 443).  MAPPS supported that bill.  A companion bill was approved by a Senate committee, but was not enacted into law.  However, other piecemeal FPI reforms have been put in place by Congress in recent years.

With unemployment continuing at dangerously high levels, 2012 may be the year Congress enacts a bill that has support from Republicans and Democrats, business and labor.
Like its predecessor, H.R. 3634 includes two provisions significant to MAPPS. 
First, the bill prohibits agencies from specifying Federal Prison Industries (FPI), or its products, as a source in any Federal agency synopsis/solicitation. There have been incidents where architect-engineer (A/E) contracts have required the A/E firm to specify a FPI product, such as a modular furniture system, in its designs.
Most importantly, the bill prohibits FPI and its inmate workers from having access to a variety of geospatial information, about individual citizens’ property or critical infrastructure location.  Specifically, it bans FPI from providing “a service in which an inmate worker has access to personal or financial information about individual private citizens, including information relating to such person’s real property, however described, without giving prior notice to such persons or class of persons to the greatest extent practicable; geographic data regarding the location of surface and subsurface infrastructure providing communications, water and electrical power distribution, pipelines for the distribution of natural gas, bulk petroleum products and other commodities, and other utilities; or data that is classified.” This provision would prohibit FPI from engaging in most, if not all, geospatial activities.
With regard to services, the bill eliminated FPI’s status as a preferred source.  A Federal agency can only contract with FPI for services, such as GIS, CAD, scanning, digitizing, if the buying agency’s contracting officers determines FPI’s services meet the agency’s need in a number of criteria, can perform on time, and provides the service at a fair market price.  This eliminates enormous advantages FPI has enjoyed in providing services.  With regard to products, FPI’s previous mandatory source status is ended in favor of full and open competition.
The bill also prohibits FPI from providing services in the commercial market.  Although FPI’s original 1930’s enabling law prohibited prison-made products from commercial market entry, the organization secured a legal opinion during the Clinton Administration that said since Congress mentioned products in the 1930’s, and not services, then sale of prisoner provided services must be permitted, notwithstanding that the United States did not have a service economy in the 1930s. Several state attorneys general have issued similar opinions with regard to state prisons.
Federal Prison Industries, Inc., which operates under the trade name UNICOR, is a self-supporting, wholly-owned government corporation that employs federal prison inmates.  A program of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons, FPI offers hundreds of products and services, including a number of data conversion activities.

A number of state prison industry operations have extensive GIS capabilities, including Colorado, Florida, and Texas, to name a few.

A recent MAPPS legislative issues poll found 51 percent of members continue to view prison industry reform legislation as a very important or somewhat important issue.

It has been reported that FPI won a contract from the Corps of Engineers to make signs.  The funding came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA, commonly known as the stimulus bill. While the bill was intended to put law-abiding, unemployed Americans back to work, not to support inmates. The expenditure of Federal ARRA funds on prison industries is being investigated by Congress.

Here is a news story about the bill

Under   H.R. 3634, FPI’s Unicor, would be required to submit a detailed analysis of the impact to the private sector before entering into new product markets and would not be able to sell products commercially or internationally; the only customer could be the federal government. It also prohibits agencies from contracting with FPI in which inmates would have access to sensitive or classified information.

"This bill gives the taxpayer the greatest value for their hard-earned money by forcing federal agencies to bid for fair and reasonable prices and for products that best suit their needs. The bill preserves market access for these products or services to the hard-working men and women of our districts. This is simply one more easy, common sense way to preserve jobs and help restore economic security for America," Huizenga said.

"This legislation will protect the jobs of hard-working American taxpayers while providing valuable alternative rehabilitative opportunities to better prepare inmates for a successful return to society.   It is a workable, bipartisan solution to the problem," Maloney said.

"It is time to allow for fair competition for U.S. manufacturers," Frank said.

"We should be looking to make government more efficient and cost-effective, and this bill does that. I support this legislation because it will save taxpayer money and open up the contracting process to competition by allowing businesses to bid for these contracts," Sensenbrenner said.

Other examples of the industries FPI competes in include: clothing and textiles, electronics, vehicular components and fleet management, industrial products, office furniture, electronics recycling, and services such as call center and data and document conversion.

The bill has already gathered interest from a broad coalition of business groups and has a bipartisan list of supporters in Congress from all across America. Original co-sponsors include Reps. Donald Manzullo (R-IL), Edward Royce, (R-CA), Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), and John Olver (D-MA).

In the past, studies by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found FPI products and services did not meet agency requirements, were not delivered in a timely manner, and were at times more expensive that the private sector.

MAPPS Signs Coalition Letter Urging President and Congress to Invest in Construction and Design

MAPPS joined 44 construction and design groups in a letter (December 7) to President Obama and Congress to pass legislation providing certainty in the construction community.

The letter has three "asks" for the President and Congress.

1. Pass and sign surface transportation, aviation, water resources, and clean water and drinking water infrastructure authorization bills. Enactment of these authorizations will immediately provide programmatic and fiscal certainty that will help job creators in every state put people back to work.

2. Pass and sign appropriations bills for the remainder of fiscal year 2012.  Short-term continuing resolutions provide little or no certainty to public agencies or those who perform work for them. In fact, our members say that the failure to pass routine authorizations and appropriations bills undermines business confidence.

3. Increase public-private partnerships. Any effort to reinvigorate the design and construction markets must successfully jumpstart new privately-funded construction. The strength of the private sector market is the single largest determining factor in the health of the construction industry. The best way to boost private demand for construction is to put in place pro-growth policies that will boost economic expansion.

The coalition posted the above ad in Roll Call, a newspaper focused on Congress, on December 8.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

President Obama Signs 3 Percent Withholding Repeal Bill Into Law

President Obama signed the 3 percent withholding repeal bill into law on November 21.

Passage of the measure by an overwhelming vote in the House and Senate is one of the few bipartisan actions Congress and the President has agreed upon this year.

MAPPS was part of the coalition organized by the US Chamber of Commerce that led the effort to enact the repeal legislation.

Friday, November 11, 2011

U.S. House Votes to Repeal 3% withholding on contracts for goods and services

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday voted 405-16 in favor of repealing Section 511 of Public Law No. 109-222, which mandates a requirement that federal, sate and local governments withhold 3 percent of their payments on contracts for goods and services.

On several occasions MAPPS has urged the IRS to eliminate the 3 percent withholding.

The bill will now wait for a vote in the Senate before a final approval from President Obama.

Unlike some more controversial bills that have been passed through the House, this bill has had support by both parties. President Obama had included a delay in the effective date of the withholding in his recently unveiled jobs package.


On Thursday, November 10 the U.S. Senate voted 95-0 to repeal the 3% withholding on federal, state and local contracts as part of an amendment to provide tax credits to companies that hire veterans. The bill must go back to the House for a final vote.

The amendment would offer up tot $5,600 in tax credits to companies that hire veterans who have been searching for work for more than six months and up to $9,600 to those who hire long-unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities.

The full measure is expected to be taken up by the House next week without much opposition and sent to the President for final signature. Both issues were part of President Obama's jobs plan which provides a bi-partisan agreement. 

Highway Bill Prospects Brighten

After more than two years of delay, prospects for Congressional action on a new transportation (”highway”) bill are suddenly improving.

The most recent long-term highway funding authorization legislation expired September 30, 2009.  Congress has continued the current program with a series of short term extensions.

On November 9, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a unanimous 18-0 vote approved a two-year reauthorization of Federal highway programs at current funding levels. The bill now goes on the calendar for Senate floor action, where it must wait for three other committees to approve funding, transit, and safety provisions and programs. These will eventually be merged into one piece of legislation.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (or “MAP-21”)Act,  S. 1813, continues Federal surface transportation programs, which create a demand for surveying, mapping and other geospatial data, technologies and services.  The Senate bill changes current law by attempting to improve the efficiency of the regulatory review process for transportation projects and leveraging private sector financial resources through expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. TIFIA provides Federal credit assistance in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to finance surface transportation projects of national and regional significance. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the panel’s ranking GOP member, as well as Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), chairman and ranking Republican, respectively, of the Highway Subcommittee.

Meanwhile, efforts to identify new transportation funding sources may be bearing fruit in the House of Representatives. There are reports the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, Rep. John Mica (R-FL), and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are nearing agreement on up to $15 billion more per year in oil development revenues, including those from drilling offshore and in Alaska.

“There’s a natural link between the two. As we develop new sources of American energy, we’re going to need modern infrastructure to bring that energy to the market,” Boehner stated on his website on Thursday, Nov. 3.

This is would be a major change from earlier this year, when the newly elected Republican Majority in the House adopted a new rule that transportation spending would be limited to the approximately $35 billion annually that flow from Federal gas tax receipts.

Mica has a draft bill that has not yet been made public, but a 22-page summary has been released. The bill includes numerous provisions that provide for an expanded private sector role in the Federal-state transportation program.  MAPPS has been working with members of the House committee on provisions regarding the private surveying, mapping and geospatial community.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee could mark up a bill in the next few weeks.