Point of Beginning

On the Restructuring of NSPS

November 21, 2000
Surveying associations come together.

The July/August 2000 issue of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) Bulletin sets forth a proposed “Revitalization of the National Society of Professional Surveyors.” The heart of the proposal is to bring all the members of all the state surveyor associations into membership in National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). It is a commendable proposal and one that many of us have advocated for years as the only means by which the surveying profession can achieve true national significance and recognition. As things stand now, the surveying profession is in danger of marginalization. Technology and the new land management systems have reduced the population of surveyors; membership of NSPS and ACSM is down as a result, though some will blame association mismanagement for loss of membership. Either way you see it, it’s time to put aside the blame and address the solution. Bringing all the state surveyor associations into NSPS would be a major step toward that solution.

The proposal suggests a potential membership in NSPS of 25,000 plus, which I believe to be a modest goal, considering that few (if any) state surveyor associations have all the licensed surveyors in their states as members. In fact, some have less than 50 percent of the surveyors in their states as members. Perhaps eventually some of those surveyors who do not belong to their state associations will become NSPS members in another category as noted in the Restructure Committee Report. Surely there is potential for a national surveyor membership of well over 25,000. There are over 10,000 members of the survey division of the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) alone (many of whom do not currently belong to NSPS/ACSM). There is also that large untapped body of surveyors who don’t belong to any association.

In the meantime, the New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors (NJSPLS) and the Alaska Society of Professional Land Surveyors (ASPLS) have taken the initiative to create joint membership of their members with NSPS and would be Affiliate Members in the restructuring of NSPS if they agrees to adopt the future Articles of Affiliation. Note that it does not require a restructuring of NSPS in order for a state to declare joint membership with the national group. What is required is the vision and initiative of the leaders of the state group—a “bottom up” effort, as opposed to the “top down” proposal of the NSPS Restructure Committee. I regret that more state associations have not had the vision of the New Jersey and Alaska groups, but lacking that, the top down approach is the remaining option. By the way, the New Jersey action added a net 500-member increase to NSPS (in addition to the 200 or 300 NJSPLS members who were already members of NSPS). It also became the single largest geographic group of members in NSPS.

A product of the larger membership role would be a reduction in member dues by potentially $103 per member per year, a truly worthy result. But the main goal of this restructuring should not be merely a reduction in dues but a more efficient administrative structure, improved services, and increased political influence and status for the profession. Only time will tell whether this greater goal can be met.

Of further interest is the impact on the ACSM from this proposed restructuring. Since it will not be just a restructuring of NSPS but also of ACSM. The proposal would revise the ACSM Board to Council status in order to “...reduce the size and control of the Board and put control and responsibility in the hands of the MOs (Member Organizations).” The new ACSM Council would “coordinate the functions that would be logical to share with the fellow Member Organizations.” Those functions would, presumably, be conventions and publications, and perhaps continuing education, bearing in mind the success of the ACSM workshop program that offers subjects of mixed interest (e.g., the geodesy courses that are so well attended by NSPS members).

The down side of the NSPS proposal, of course, is the effect of creating a second level of administration and the attendant cost. NSPS would have its own executive director and staff if it is to run all its own programs (publications, standards, continuing education and government affairs). It would be a duplication of the current ACSM staff and function. The implication is that the ACSM staff would be made redundant. But the new NSPS staff would be a reflection if not a duplicate of the newly extinct ACSM staff. The question is, “What advantage have we gained by moving the administrative staff one level?” It can’t be merely a matter of control—NSPS is in a position to control ACSM as well right now as it would be to control its own affairs after restructuring.

One could carry the restructuring concept a step or two further and in a slightly different direction. First, let’s have the state surveyor associations become “state affiliates” of NSPS. Next, a careful reading of the requirements for membership in the Member Organizations—American Association of Geodetic Surveying (AAGS), Cartography and Geographic Information Society (CaGIS), Geographic and Land Information Society (GLIS) and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS)—suggests that many or most of the members of these MOs could qualify for membership in NSPS. Why not have all those members join NSPS as well, eliminate the other three societies and create divisions within NSPS for geodesy, cartography and geographic information systems? The profile of “surveyor” would then be much closer to what it is in much of the rest of the world, we would truly be “land information specialists” but “surveyors” as the word is defined internationally. But wait a minute. That would put us right back where we started in the 1950s with the ACSM and its practice divisions, only with a change of name from ACSM to NSPS! Sounds simple, but it’s not likely to work that way.

It is not likely to work that way because, (1) the professional (i.e. licensed) surveyors insist on exclusivity, (2) the cartographers who might meet the requirements wouldn’t want to be lumped into a surveyor category, (3) the GIS specialists will look for a home elsewhere, and (4) because the traditionalists will resist the loss of the name ACSM and its worldwide recognition. More’s the pity. The obdurate resistance to a broader inclusion of all of us in the profession, under any name, assures a continuing marginalization of surveying professionally, culturally and politically. The NSPS restructuring proposal could lead to a true revitalization of the surveying profession in America, and just in time. An inclusion of all land surveyors into the national society will give the profession a new and improved strength and presence. But the exclusion of geodesists, cartographers and GIS specialists is a step backward and a denial of the realities of 21st century environment in which “land management specialist,” “spatial data infrastructure” and automated precise positioning are the new vocabulary.