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.