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June 1, 2001
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Robert W. Foster
A long-time, one-time congressman from Massachusetts and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, “Tip” O’Neil made the famous observation that all politics are local. We have observed that for the licensed land surveyor in the United States, all surveying is local. Indeed, most of us have done 90 percent of our work within 20 miles of our offices. In a personal sense that means we may have a rather myopic view of the world, if not our profession. Perhaps more to the point, we are regulated on a state-by-state basis in this country, further limiting our activities geographically. Many in surveying prefer it that way. Others would like to broaden the scope of their operations. As surveying develops a broader definition of itself, encompassing more of the elements of land administration (see “Surveying and Its Place in the World,” POB magazine, March 2001), the more aggressive among us will look beyond their home communities, out of the county and across state lines. The issue of licensure and recognition of professional qualifications of out-of-state surveyors will build in importance as time goes on.

Of all the activities of surveying it is the legal aspects of property location that is state-specific and rightly regulated at the state level. Leaders in the profession and the members of boards of registration and NCEES must find a way to recognize the portability of other activities like positioning and geodesy, photogrammetry and much of geographic information system technology. The concept of “branched licensing” has been suggested, and once defined and accepted nationally may provide a way out of the straight jacket surveying has bound itself up in over the years. But take heart; the current situation is not an exclusively American problem.

The European Union (EU) is struggling with much the same problem of diverse practices of surveying among its members as we have here in the States. A major objective of the EU is to create a common market for both goods and services. It is just as important (and perhaps much more difficult) to equate the competence of the surveyor in Spain to that of the surveyor in the Czech Republic as it is to compare the capability of the registered surveyor in Massachusetts to the licensed surveyor in Louisiana. Europeans must deal with severe language and cultural differences in addition to different cadastral and land registration systems. Yet, an emergence of a true European Union means that surveyors of adjoining and neighboring countries will be in a similar juxtaposition to the surveyors here in the States. If, as is the objective of the European Commission, there is to be a single market for surveying services then a way must be found to recognize professional qualifications across national boundaries.

A proposal was brought forward at the 1998 ISO TC211 Plenary Meeting for the qualification and certification of surveying (geomatics*) personnel. The proposal was to set up national certifying bodies to review university programs, for instance in the teaching of GIS elements and standards, and to qualify and certify individuals at three levels of competence. By qualification, the proposal meant (a) demonstration of the knowledge, skill, training and experience required to properly perform GIS/Geomatics tasks. Certification was defined as (t)he procedure leading to written testimony of the qualifications of an individual’s competence in GIS/Geomatics. The certification levels would be GIS/Geomatics technologist (level 1), GIS/Geomatics professional (level 2) and GIS/Geomatics manager (level 3). The certification activity was to be administered in each country by a national certifying body with assistance from certain qualifying bodies. The proposal defined what it meant by a national certifying body, its composition and responsibilities, and the pre-requisite qualifications required for the three levels of certification. While this proposal may never progress to reality, there is an alternative approach in the works.

The FIG (International Federation of Surveyors) Task Force on Mutual Recognition of Qualifications suggests in an interim report an approach, which “allows each country to retain its own kind of professional education and training because it is based not on the process of achieving professional qualifications but on the nature and quality of the outcome of that process.” In this concept, mutual recognition is “a process, which allows the qualifications gained in one country (the home country) to be recognized in another country (the host country).”

The Task Force has prepared the following draft of a policy statement to be brought before the FIG General Assembly at the Washington Congress in 2002:

The International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) recognizes the importance of free movement of surveyors in a global marketplace. The mutual recognition of professional qualifications provides a means whereby professional qualifications held by individual surveyors can be recognized by individual professional organizations as comparable to their own national surveyors.

FIG will promote the principle of mutual recognition of professional qualifications by:

  • encouraging communication between professional organizations to ensure a better understanding of how surveyors acquire their professional qualifications in different countries;

  • developing with professional organizations a methodology for implementing mutual recognition of surveyors;

  • supporting professional organizations where difficulties are identified in achieving mutual recognition, and encouraging debate at national government level in order to remove such difficulties; and

  • working with external organizations (such as WTO) in order to achieve mutual recognition in both principle and practice of professional qualifications for surveyors worldwide.

In its draft policy statement, the Task Force makes reference to “professional organizations.” In the context of the report professional organizations means organizations “which award professional qualifications; and/or award practicing licenses; and/or regulate conduct and competence of surveyors; and/or represent surveyors and their interests to external bodies including national governments.”

In some countries there would be more than one professional organization. In the United States, the professional organization might be a combination of NCEES and ACSM for an American surveyor trying to achieve recognition in a foreign country. But a foreign surveyor attempting to get recognition in the United States would have to approach the licensing board(s) for the state(s) in which he or she wished to practice, as well as, the state surveyor association(s). It is a system that will work best where the two countries involved both qualify surveyors at the national level. It might also provide a system for mutual recognition of professional qualifications of surveyors across state lines in the United States.

* Geomatics: A discipline concerned with the collection, distribution, storage, analysis, processing and presentation of geographic data or geographic information.

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