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.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

LightSquared Will Result in Unfair Government Competition with the Private Sector

On its face, the LightSquared proposal and the issue of unfair government competition with the private sector would seem to have nothing in common.  As a for-profit corporation, LightSquared is raising private capital, hiring private sector employees, and paying taxes.  At this point, it is seeking a regulatory approval from the federal government (spectrum from the Federal Communications Commission), not tax dollars, grants or other financial assistance from the taxpayers.

But LightSquared has stubbed its toe in a way that particularly disadvantages and disenfranchises numerous private companies, and those in surveying and mapping in particular. Unfair government competition with private enterprise is rearing its ugly head again.  Here’s how.

Several Federal agencies, including departments of defense, agriculture, transportation, interior and commerce, have voiced concern that LightSquared’s interference with GPS will adversely affect agency operations.  LightSquared argues that the GPS industry, including the surveying and mapping profession, are interfering with LightSquared’s spectrum, not the other way around.

That claim notwithstanding, LightSquared has attempted to cushion its impact on existing users – in the government. While reports are the firm has spent more than spent $9 million to develop filters to ensure its signal did not go into the spectrum licensed to GPS, LightSquared says the GPS industry should pay for the filters and patches to their instruments, arguing that the GPS user community should have vacated the disputed spectrum years ago, and is therefore responsible for its own upgrades.

Now it is reported that LightSquared has committed an additional $50 million to retrofit or replace GPS devices in use by federal agencies. 

This will result in an unfair advantage for the government over the private sector.  Federal agencies, USGS, NOAA, Corps of Engineers, just to name a few that have their own in-house surveying and mapping equipment, crews and service capabilities, would have a no-cost fix to their LightSquared interference problems, while private sector firms, including small business surveyors, photogrammetrists and other GPS users, will have to pay for their own upgrades and repairs.

Unfair government competition with the private sector has long been a major concern for small business.  Every time a White House Conference on Small Business has been convened, government performance of commercial activities (those that meet the “Yellow Pages Test” -- if a service is commercially available and can be found from private enterprise in the Yellow Pages, the government shouldn’t be doing it) as a top issue.  LightSquared’s proposal to fix the GPS interference problem for federal agencies while leaving private enterprise to fend for itself will only exacerbate the problem. 

Whether an intended or unintended consequence, Congress and the FCC should insist that prior to any approval, LightSquared should be responsible for preventing interference with all GPS users, not just some and certainly not just those in government.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

MAPPS Announces Date Change for March Federal Programs Conference

MAPPS has formally announced a change of dates for the 2012 Federal Programs Conference in Washington, DC. The event will now take place:

March 27 & 28, 2012

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives announced its legislative calendar for 2012. The Congress anticiaptes that the House will not be in session on March 13 - 14, the dates originally set for the annual MAPPS Federal Programs Conference. This will mark the first time in the 20+ year history of the Federal Programs Conference that we have had to adjust the dates to accommodate the Congressional schedule. 

The value of the MAPPS Federal Programs Conference includes the meetings MAPPS members have with their elected officials and their staff to discuss legislation affecting the private sector geospatial community. Therefore, in order to provide MAPPS members the maximum opportunity to bring their message to their elected officials,  the MAPPS staff, with the approval of the MAPPS Board of Directors, has decided to change the dates of the 2012 Federal Programs Conference. 

The venue for the 2012 Federal Programs Conference has not changed.  It will still be at the Westin City Center, 1400 M Street, NW, Washington DC 20005.

2012 will mark the 21st annual Federal Programs Conference. The program will include federal agency speakers to update the membership on current and future programs resulting in contracts with the private geospatial profession.  

Registration and the agenda for the March 27 & 28, 2012 conference will be available in January 2012.  Please mark your calendar and plan to attend this conference -- the most important event on the annual MAPPS calendar.

In the meantime, make plans to attend the MAPPS Fall Policy Conference -- November 15 & 17, 2011 and the Winter Conference January 22-26, 2012.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

MAPPS Announces Speakers for Fall Policy Conference

MAPPS is pleased to report that an official from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is  confirmed as a speaker at the MAPPS Fall Policy Conference.

Peder Magee, a senior attorney in the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, will speak to MAPPS members on Thursday, November 17.

Mr. Magee works on a variety of policy and litigation matters, including online behavioral marketing, and was involved in the December 2010 "Preliminary FTC Staff Report on Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers."

The report proposed that firms be required to obtain a citizen's approval prior to collecting, storing or using "precise geolocation" data. MAPPS led a geospatial community effort to persuade the FTC to remove or revise the proposal.

Other presentations will feature:

Jerry Johnston of EPA, who will provide a demonstration of the "Geospatial Platform" being developed by the US Government. Johnston will discuss important issues affecting whether and how your firm's data can be on the platform.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is launching a new program to utilize remote sensing technologies, including LIDAR and others, in its airports program. An Advisory Circular has been issued. FAA will brief MAPPS members on the circular and the potential program.

Other presentations will be announced shortly.

The conference will also feature meetings of the MAPPS Federal Agency Liaison Committees (NGA, USDA, USGS, NOAA, DoD & DHS, and FAA & TSA), which includes valuable information from our Federal agency partners. This year, the MAPPS Fall Policy Conference will be held on Thursday, November 17 at the Hilton Washington Dulles Hotel in Herndon, VA, concurrent with the ASPRS/Pecora Symposium.

Early registration for the MAPPS Fall Policy Conference ends October 30. The MAPPS Fall Policy Conference features sessions on topics of interest to the geospatial community. Presentations will focus on policy issues that affect your firm and your markets.

The MAPPS Fall Policy Conference is only open to MAPPS members. If your firm has not joined MAPPS, we invite private sector firms to join today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Longer Depreciation Schedules and Air Traffic Control

Guest Blogger: Richard Breitlow is an account executive with AGFA Materials Corporation, where he specializes in aerial photography product sales.  He is chairman of the Aerial Acquisition Committee of MAPPS with more than 38 years’ experience in the aerial photography business.

Recently, President Obama proposed a Federal debt and deficit reduction plan that includes slower and longer depreciation schedules for business owned aircraft. While billed as eliminating a tax loophole for corporate executives’ jets, the proposal would also adversely affect small businesses, including aerial imagery and geospatial data collection operators. MAPPS has already commented on that proposal.

Now the "President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction" has been released, including a proposed $100 per flight fee for air traffic control services.  This double-whammy on the aerial survey profession is both economically unwise and politically burdensome and unfair.

Like other aviation related associations, MAPPS recognizes the need to pay for air traffic control (ATC) services. General aviation has historically paid for those services through fuel taxes, commonly referred to as "pay at the pump". The proposed $100 fee per flight would add a whole new accounting requirement and new level of government bureaucracy just to administer and enforce the new requirement. The best way for general aviation to pay for ATC services is to continue to pay at the pump. Whether the current amount taxed is appropriate, or should be raised is another argument.  Certainly there is a lot of waste in FAA spending that should be eliminated before increases are considered. 

The Obama Administration portrayed the proposed fee as a tax on corporate jets. However the actual wording only excludes military aircraft, public aircraft, recreational piston aircraft, air ambulances, aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace, and Canada-to-Canada flights. All aerial survey flights in controlled airspace would be subject to the proposed fee, regardless of aircraft type. MAPPS has gone on record in opposition to per flight air traffic control fees.

Adding a $100 fee per flight for ATC services would only further burden a profession already hard-hit by the decline in the housing market, and the economy in general, and would certainly have a negative impact on hiring. This fee would have just the opposite effect of the intent of the President's "jobs bill". 

Lobbyists for commercial airlines have long favored measures to shift a larger share of the burden for ATC services to general aviation. However, attempts in the past to include a per flight ATC user fee or "charge" in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Authorization bill have been met with stiff opposition.

The current effort will, and should, meet a similar fate.

While the President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction appears to have little chance of passing Congress, parts of it could find its way into the "Super Committee's" plan to reduce the national debt and annual government deficit. This is where the real danger lies. 

In order to protect the interests of the aerial survey profession, and the public and clients we serve, I suggest:
  • the current Pay at the Pump method be preserved as the best way for general aviation to help pay for ATC services and the "fee per flight" concept be rejected,
  • Identify “Super Committee” members who are aviation friendly and urge them to either reject the fee outright, or adopt wording to exclude flights that are primarily work operations, such as small businesses operating aircraft for aerial surveys.
  • Identify FAA activities that can be reformed, eliminated or privatized to save money and explore a more balanced and equitable method of paying for FAA and ATC services that does not  unfairly target general aviation generally or aerial survey operations in particular.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

MAPPS Member Firm, Keystone Aerial Surveys hurt by Northeast Flooding

Keystone Aerial Surveys is still functioning! Flooding in the area around their headquarters at Northeast Philadelphia Airport due to Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee has crippled telecommunications lines. KAS has been without full Internet and phone capabilities since September 4. Mary Potter, President, says that they anticipate to have communication lines restored by Monday, Sept 19.

“We apologize if you have attempted to contact us via email or phone and have been directed to a voicemail box or have not received a response,” said Potter. “Our facility will be operational by Monday and we will return to business as normal.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

MAPPS Opposes 3% Withholding on Federal Contracts at IRS Public Hearing

On September 12 MAPPS Executive Director John Palatiello was one of five witnesses who testified at a public hearing by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) entitled, “Withholding on Payments by Government Entities to Persons Providing Property or Services.” The hearing was to address legislation enacted by Congress calling for a 3 percent withholding on all federal contracts, including mapping, surveying and geospatial activities, with the IRS in charge of implementing regulations on  section 3402(t) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Palatiello reiterated MAPPS opposition to the 3 percent withholding. He said even with a recent change in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (section 52.232-10), A/E firms, including those in surveying and mapping, still face a potential retainage or withholding of 13 percent on Federal contracts, an amount often in excess of the net profit. He said small business cannot afford to be in the banking business, making interest free loans to the federal government. He also said the withholding will drive firms out of the Federal contracting market at a time when we should be encouraging more competition.

As a means to help business, Palatiello urged that all long-term contracts be grandfathered. In particular, an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contract should be grandfathered, and the 3%withholding should not apply to any task order entered into or against the ID/IQ contract after the effective date of the IRS regulation.  The same policy should apply to other types of contract vehicles, such as GSA Schedule and Basic Ordering Agreements (BOAs), he told the IRS.

In 2009, MAPPS testified at an IRS oversight hearing opposing 3 percent withholding.

MAPPS is a member of the Government Withholding Coalition (the Coalition), led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Coalition was formed to seek repeal of Section 511 of Public Law No. 109-222, which mandates the sweeping new requirement that federal, sate and local governments withhold 3% of their payments for goods and services (the government withholding regime).

Currently there is bi-partisan support in Congress to repeal the withholding. H.R. 674 and S. 164 are intended to “amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the imposition of 3 percent withholding on certain payments made to vendors by government entities.” The bills are cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 250 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 21 U.S. Senators. This legislation is a priority for the Republican leadership in the House and is scheduled to be debated this fall. President Obama has included a delay in the effective date of the withholding in his recently unveiled jobs package.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Those Aren’t Rich Corporate Executives’ Jets, They’re Small Businesses – The Backbone of America’s Economy

President Obama - and almost every other political figure on the American landscape – has at one time or another declared that small business is the backbone of America’s economy. Then why is the President proposing to raise taxes on the very entrepreneurs he’s counting on to create jobs?

 Photo provided by Keystone Aerial Surveys
On Monday, President Obama formally sent his “American Jobs Act” to Congress.  As promised in his address to Congress and the Nation last Thursday, the package includes measures to pay for his latest proposal to jump start the American economy. Included in the bill is a provision on “General Aviation Aircraft Treated As 7-Year Property”. That’s tax jargon for the President’s now infamous but inaccurate attack on a tax loophole for corporate jets.
The fact of the matter is most general aviation aircraft is owned by small to mid-sized businesses, not corporate fat cats.  These planes and helicopters are not used to whisk CEO’s off to exotic destinations.  Rather, they are used for aerial photography in support of surveying and mapping of new highways, monitor dangerous encroachment of underground pipelines, conduct danger tree surveys to prevent power outages, apply fertilizer and pesticides to crops for maximum yield of food by farmers, researching the atmosphere and environment, keep an eye on traffic, and move employees, customers, cargo and products.
The President’s plan is based on polling and focus group sessions that show average Americans frustration with tax loopholes that permit some individuals and businesses to pay little or no taxes. In fact, what is at issue is the length of time a taxpayer is permitted for depreciation of an asset, in this case an airplane. Owners of business aircraft can depreciate their investment over five years. President Obama has proposed changing the depreciation schedule for general aviation aircraft to seven years calling the current five year schedule a tax loophole. The depreciation schedule for general aviation aircraft has been in existence since the early 1980s.  Business aircraft are treated similarly to other assets such as cars, trucks, and certain equipment, which can be depreciated over a five year period when purchased for business use.
According to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), in the first six months of 2011, total general aviation airplane shipments worldwide fell 15.5 percent, from 936 in 2010 to 791 this year.  There is no doubt the Obama proposal would only make this situation worse.
Shorter depreciation schedules create jobs. The faster a business can expense capital equipment, the faster it can buy more – putting more people to work. Making it difficult for businesses to purchase and depreciate aircraft will not punish wealthy CEO’s, but reduce jobs for the pilots, crews, mechanics, airport operations workers, and ultimately the folks that work the assembly lines at aircraft factories. At a time when application of digital aerial imagery, LIDAR and other airborne acquired geospatial data is exploding, aerial photographers, surveyors, and users of geospatial services will also see their jobs jeopardized.
It is difficult to see how taxing aircraft supports the broader goal of addressing the nation's job crisis. This proposal is virtually identical to what happened in 1990 when Congress imposed a “luxury” tax on yachts. The rich people who could afford these boats were unaffected, but the workers built them lost their jobs. As a result, Congress scrambled to repeal the tax. Pardon the pun, but Congress should not let the plane tax proposal ever get off the ground.

Friday, July 29, 2011

COGO Submits Comments to FCC on LightSquared.

COGO, of which MAPPS is a member, has commented to the FCC that the application by LightSquared will adversely affect activities of the geospatial community.

MAPPS urges member firms and geospatial professionals to submit comments to the FCC. The deadline to submit is tomorrow, July 30.

Monday, July 25, 2011

GPS is Being Threatened, LightSquared Update

GPS is being threatened. An application to the Federal Communications Commission by the firm LightSquared, to gain spectrum access for a planned wholesale 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) wireless broadband communications network integrated with satellite coverage across the United States, has raised concerns from a broad cross-section of GPS users due to LightSquared’s interference with GPS.

Earlier this year, MAPPS filed a comment with the FCC in opposition to the LightSquared application.

Additionally, MAPPS was active in gaining unanimous approval of the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO) for a letter in opposition to LightSquared and FGDC or NGAC

An excellent resource for information on this issue is the Coalition to Save Our GPS.

While FCC previously granted LightSquared a conditional waiver, the FCC also directed that
LightSquared conduct tests to determine the extent of the interference with GPS.

The Technical Working Group (TWG), which consisted of LightSquared and representatives from the GPS user and manufacturer communities tested more than 100 different GPS devices. The tests, conducte in several test environments, found network deployment proposed by LightSquared would indeed cause interference to millions of GPS users. FCC released the report on June 30 and issued a new call for comments. Such comments are due July 30.

MAPPS has again submitted comments. Individual geospatial professionals, as well as MAPPS member firms, are encouraged to submit comments of their own.

Meanwhile, Congress is moving to prevent FCC approval of the LightSquared application. The appropriations bill to fund the FCC for fiscal year 2012 (which begins October 1, 2011) includes a provision limiting FCC’s funding until it resolves the concerns of possible widespread harmful interference to the GPS system before giving final approval to the application.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Don't Make LiDAR Criminal

As reported in LiDAR News yesterday, MAPPS has be working on an issue with LiDAR techonology and the FAA over the past several months. We have developed a one-pager  which has been distributed to members of the geospatial profession and to Members of Congress.

The U.S. Senate has approved an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Bill, S. 223, and the House of Representatives has passed a free-standing bill, H.R. 386, to make it a criminal offense for anyone who “aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft.” The legislation defines a “laser pointer” as “any device designed or used to amplify electromagnetic radiation by stimulated emission that emits a beam designed to be used by the operator as a pointer or highlighter to indicate, mark, or identify a specific position, place, item, or object.” However, this language was NOT included in H.R. 658, the FAA Reauthorization Bill, and therefore reconciliation is needed during a House-Senate Conference.

MAPPS is deeply concerned that this definition is too broad and vague. It could include LiDAR (Light Detecting And Ranging), a state-of-the art mapping technology that can measure the distance to or other characteristics of an area of land or an object by illuminating the area or item with light beams or pulses from a laser. LiDAR indeed uses a directed beam of light to identify a specific position, but does NOT pose the safety threat of the lasers intended by the legislation. A LiDAR device could be defined as pointing a laser beam, however LiDAR devices are not pointers.

LiDAR is a technology developed by NASA that is now fully commercialized. It is used for accurate floodplain mapping, conducting “danger tree surveys” of overhead power lines, measuring vegetative cover or biomass for climate change analysis and hundreds of other applications. There are more than 50 aerial LiDAR systems in operation in the United States.

One of the major users of LiDAR is the FAA itself. The FAA uses Single Point LiDAR devices to monitor airports throughout the United States. These devices point at aircraft for the purpose of getting the position of the aircraft during ground movement on the taxiway. LiDAR services, contracted by individual airport authorizes, utilize Stationary Tripod Scanners to survey the interiors and exteriors of structures at airports, Airborne LiDAR is used to conduct obstruction surveys, master planning and pavement surveys of runways. Each of these FAA-related operations would be in violation of the legislative language. In addition, USACE, NGA, USGS, FEMA, NOAA, and other agencies contract for LiDAR.

The legislation is clear in its intent to prohibit inappropriate use of the laser pointer, particularly when the objective is to disrupt or harm a pilot in the cockpit. With a slight modification, the legislative language could meet its intent, without impeding the safe and legitimate used of LiDAR technology.
JUNE 2011 UPDATE: Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Randy Babbitt announced June 1 that the FAA will begin to impose civil penalties against people who point a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft. Today’s interpretation reflects the fact that pointing a laser at an aircraft from the ground could seriously impair a pilot’s vision and interfere with the flight crew’s ability to safely handle its responsibilities. The maximum civil penalty the FAA can impose on an individual for violating the FAA’s regulations that prohibit interfering with a flight crew is $11,000 per violation.

MAPPS urges that Congressional intent clearly state that LiDAR technology is not a danger to aviation operations, and that this technology enables public policy decisions. This Congressional intent should be entered into the Congressional Record and/or the Conference Report via a colloquy and/or by an official statement.

The following modification is respectfully recommended:

“any device designed or used to amplify electromagnetic radiation by stimulated emission that emits a beam designed to be used by the operator as a pointer or highlighter to indicate, mark, or identify a specific position, place, item, or object.

For Further Information Contact: MAPPS John “JB” Byrd, Government Affairs Manager
1856 Old Reston Avenue, Suite 205, Reston, VA 20190 P: 703-787-6996; F: 703-787-7550; E:;

Thursday, June 9, 2011


MAPPS has been deeply involved in a number of important issues of late, so this blog post will be a potpourri on several topics of interest to the private geospatial community.
The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) met in Washington, DC on June 8.  Surprisingly and disappointingly, it was the first meeting of the group responsible for coordination of federal geospatial activities since President Obama took office 2½ years ago. The agenda was long on reports and short on votes, decisions, and actions.  In fact, no votes were taken or policy decisions made.  A lot of frustration was expressed and promises were made for action before the next meeting, the date of which was not established.  I was pleased to be recognized by Acting Chair, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Anne Castle, to express concern for three threats to the geospatial community – government service and private practice alike.  Those were the threat the LightSquared application to the FCC poses for interference with GPS signals and all GPSusers, the FCC “privacy” rules that propose to limit the collection, storage and use of “precise geolocation data” without defining that term, and the criminalization of directing laser pointers at aircraft or their flight path, with LiDAR manufacturers’ interpreting the definition of the term “laser pointer” to include LiDAR.  Fortunately, Ms. Castle took note of all three and agreed to follow up on each.
Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have introduced a Senate version of the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act, to provide a current, accurate inventory of all land owned by the federal government, and to have an inventory of existing inventories conducted to identify those that are out of date, obsolete, redundant, non-interoperable or can otherwise be eliminated in favor of the new, current, accurate GIS-based cadaster.  S. 1153 is a companion to H.R. 1620, which was introduced in the House earlier this year by Rep. Ron Kind (R-WI) and Rob Bishop (R-UT).  ACSM and NSGIC are among the groups that have joined MAPPS in support of the bill in the past.  The bill was also recommended by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.  The NRC/NAS report recommendations have in turn been endorsed by the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) and the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO).
The issue of government duplicating and competing with the private sector in the performance of commercially-available activities is getting a lot of attention these days.
The tragic tornado that hit Joplin, MO has also stirred up a storm of controversy.  NOAA dispatches an aircraft from Tampa, FL to capture aerial imagery.  Problem is, such digital aerial imagery had already been acquired, days earlier, by two private firms in Missouri, Surdex and MJ Harden.  The NOAA aerial photography unit has been documented by the Commerce Department Inspector General as being inferior to the private sector in cost and quality and privatization of the government capability has been recommended.  Moreover, a federal law, known as the Economy Act, implemented in the Federal Acquisition Regulation, requires an agency proposing to provide a service to another agency to prepare a determination and findings (D&F) that “the supplies or services cannot be obtained as conveniently or economically by contracting directly with a private source.”  It is not known if NOAA prepared the D&F or if it did, how did it justify being more convenient or economical than aerial imagery already acquired.
The U.S. of Representatives has tackled two aspects of government performing commercial activities.  An amendment to the National DefenseAuthorization bill for 2012 by Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY) puts Congress on record as being opposed to insourcing - an Obama Administration program to convert work currently performed by private sector contractor firms to performance by Federal government employees.  In her speech in the House debate, Rep. Hayworth mentioned mapping as an example of a commercial activity that has been insourced in some agencies.  The Hayworth amendment was approved on a voice vote.  

A provision in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012 was stripped of a provision that would have prevented DHS from contracting out activities currently carried out by government employees, even if commercially available.  The amendment to remove the anti-free enterprise language, offered by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), was approved by a 218-204 vote.

More news about MAPPS activities will be available next week in our bi-montly newsletter FLIGHTLINE, a link will be posted on the blog. Additionally, MAPPS is gearing up for a full program at the 2011 Summer Conference June 26-30 in Bolton Landing (Lake George), NY.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Update on the FTC Privacy Rule and it’s Impact on “Precise Geolocation Data”

The staff of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) facilitated a meeting on Wednesday, April 27 to engage geospatial interests in federal, state and local government agencies, and the private sector in a dialogue with the staff of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding the FTC staff report, "Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change" and its proposal that firms engaged in collection, sharing or use of "precise geolocation data" about a citizen be required to obtain “affirmative express consent”  or advance approval of each such citizen.

MAPPS Executive Director John Palatiello was invited to the meeting representing the private sector firms in the MAPPS membership.
The meeting resulted in a number of revelations.  But first, a little background.

In February 2009, the FTC issued a report “Behavioral Advertising Tracking, Targeting, & Technology” wherein it defined behavioral advertising as “the practice of tracking an individual’s online activities in order to deliver advertising tailored to the individual’s interests.”  While the report used the term “precise geographic location”, it was limited to internet activities, such as the use of “cookies“ (FTC defined a cookie as a small text file that a website’s server places on a computer’s web browser. The cookie transmits information back to the website’s server about the browsing activities of the computer user on the site.) As a result of this relatively narrow scope of the report, it did not garner the attention of the geospatial community.

Legislation billed as protecting consumer privacy was drafted and introduced in Congress in 2010.  The Privacy report, a follow-up to the Behavior Advertising study, was much broader in its scope, application and reach, as well as its discussion of geolocation and its proposal for regulation of such activities, thus attracting the concern and attention of geospatial professionals.  MAPPS submitted comments to the FTC, issued a call for members' action, made a presentation to the National Geospatial Advisory, and secured letters of opposition to the FTC proposal from FGDC,  the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO),  numerous MAPPS members and other stakeholders in the geospatial community.    

The MAPPS comment to FTC came on the heels of letters to the FCC, the Commerce Department, and Congress.

The community’s comments to FTC caused the April 27 FGDC-facilitated meeting, held at the U.S. Department of the Interior headquarters building in Washington, DC.

At the April 27 meeting, Palatiello pointed out that since the FTC only has jurisdiction over private, for profit companies (and not nonprofits organizations or universities, or government agencies), the FTC proposal would result in an unlevel playing field and unfair government competition with private firms.  The FTC staff confirmed its existing statutory authority is limited to commercial companies.  The discrimination against these companies was called unfair by a Federal agency official in the meeting.  Palatiello noted that while government agencies are not covered by FTC’s enforcement powers, the FTC privacy proposal did not exempt private firms working as contractors to government agencies.

The FTC staff, led by Christopher Olsen, Bureau of Consumer Protection, as well as attorneys Peder Magee and Katie Ratte of FTC's Division of Privacy & Identity Protection, complimented MAPPS for mobilizing comments from its members and the broader geospatial community.  Olsen called the comments “helpful” to calling attention to the expansive and undefined use of the term “precise geolocation data”.  He said “what you people (geospatial professionals) do is beyond what we intended” and admitted FTC needs to “put meat on the bones” of a definition of precise geolocation data in its final report.

Olson said the FTC staff’s intent is to control “pinpoint unique individuals in a precise location” and the collection of information on the “location of an individual, computer or device”.

Palatiello called such a narrowing “helpful” and “reassuring”.  He noted that MAPPS attempted, but was unable to define “precise geolocation data” for the purpose of FTC or Congressional intentions on privacy, but did recommend an exemption from such term.  That exemption included:

1. Any information about the location and shape of, and the relationships among, geographic features, including remotely sensed and map data;

2. Any graphical or digital data depicting natural or manmade physical features, phenomena, or boundaries of the earth and any information related thereto, including surveys, maps, charts, remote sensing data, and images;

3. Collection, storage, retrieval, or dissemination of graphical or digital data to depict natural or manmade physical features, phenomena, or boundaries of the earth and any information related to such data, including any such data that comprises a survey, map, chart, geographic information system, remotely sensed image or data, or an aerial photograph by surveyors, photogrammetrists, hydrographers, geodesists, cartographers, or other such mapping and geospatial professionals; and
Data originating from commercial satellite systems licensed to operate by the U.S. government, global positioning systems, geographic information systems, and airborne or terrestrial mapping equipment.

Palatiello also echoed comments by MAPPS member Kevin Pomfret, Esq (LeClairRyan, Richmond, VA) that any such definition or exemption must not preclude the development of new technologies, activities or applications or thwart the innovation that is driving the market.