Point of Beginning

The Latest News

October 1, 2001
News about Mount Diablo Surveyors Historical Society, limiting government competition of commercial services and TAPS Surveyors.

Surveyors Remember a Man Who Made His Point

The summer heat was oppressive, the brush dense and the terrain steep for Col. Leander Ransom, general land office deputy surveyor, as he trudged up Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County, Calif., in July of 1851. He had a crew and pack animals to help, but the last mile of the climb to the summit of the 3,849 foot-high mountain had to be made on foot, carrying a load of surveying equipment. When he reached the summit, he found he had no water and no timber to make a flagpole to mark the highest point. But he had a goal, a commission to fulfill. He was under instruction from the surveyor general for California to establish the initial point of land boundaries for California on Mount Diablo’s summit—and establish it he would.

By the next day Ransom had the necessary timber to make the flagpole, and had chiseled a hole in the solid rock to erect it. He and his crew finally completed their work of establishing the initial point and set additional monuments to establish the meridian and base lines on August 31, 1851.

The going wasn’t nearly as rough or as long on July 21, 2001 for Mount Diablo Surveyors Historical Society members and their guests. They drove or traveled by shuttle to the Mount Diablo State Park with an equally important goal: To celebrate the achievement that Ransom and his crew made 150 years ago.

The Mount Diablo Surveyors Historical Society (http://www.mdshs.org) sponsored an event to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the establishment of the initial point on Mount Diablo for the United States Public Land Survey System for northern California and all of Nevada. The actual summit rock is exposed within the Summit Museum and Visitor Center at the park. In 1993 the society placed a plaque on a pillar near the summit explaining the importance of Ransom’s work. This year they placed a commemorative disk temporarily on the summit itself, in the remains of the hole Ransom cut for his flag. The society is working with park officials to install the disk permanently.

The celebration included booths, displays and educational activities for everyone in attendance. One booth sponsored an activity that taught laymen to use a compass by marking a course in the parking lot for them to try their skill. The Mount Diablo Surveyors Historical Society’s booth featured historic equipment, including a pre-1900 compass, a transit, a level and other artifacts. In addition to the booth, the society provided antique surveying equipment that visitors were allowed to handle. One active display included a 66-foot Gunter link chain that the public was invited to lift. Modern mid-generation electronic measurement distance devices, modern total stations and GPS equipment were displayed at other booths, illustrating the progression of surveying instruments over time.

Although the instruments may have become faster and made the surveying profession easier over time, the basics of the work remain, according to Keith Nofield, a member of the society.

“You can still get an accurate reading using the old tools. They work just as well,” Nofield said. “Optics are optics.”

More Jobs for Private Sector?

President Bush’s promise to limit government competition of commercial services may soon come to fruition. This is good news for the 850,000 federal jobs that could be subject to A-76 competitions, which require federal agencies to first consider the cost-effectiveness of using a private contractor for commercially available services. MAPPS, the Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors, and its 155 member firms, is also looking forward to the proposal’s outcome.

“There are hundreds of thousands of full-time federal employees that are performing tasks that could be done by companies in the private sector. I will put as many of these tasks as possible up for competitive bidding. If the private sector can do a better job, the private sector should get the contract,” Bush said at a June 9th campaign.

Should this proposal from the Bush Administration pass, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will amend a grandfathering clause in the supplement to Circular A-76. A-76 sets forth the procedures for determining whether commercial activities should be performed under contract with commercial sources or in-house using government facilities and personnel.

The proposed change to A-76 is designed to “serve to invite private sector and other public offerors into the mix of possible offerors, by competing on a level playing field.” The rule would require competitions of Inter-Service Support Agreements (ISSAs) among public and private groups on a recurring three to five year review cycle.

Compliance with the proposal will lie with the prospective reimbursable service providers to submit an A-76 comparable offer for the renewal of existing service agreements or for the award of new or expanded work. It will only apply to reimbursable agreements between one department or executive agency and another non-mission agency (e.g., between the EPA and the Dept. of Commerce).

Opposite the proposal is S.1152 and H.R. 721, versions of the union-backed Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC) Act, introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), which would require federal employees to compete for most new government contracts. MAPPS actively opposes the Durbin proposal and the TRAC bill, which it says contrasts a more than 45-year-old federal policy (the FAIR Act) that discourages unfair government competition with the private sector. According to MAPPS, the TRAC bill, in fact, encourages and mandates that the government compete with private enterprise by requiring that government agencies engage in a competitive bidding process with private companies. MAPPS further says the TRAC bill “awards” work to the lowest bidder, overriding qualifications-based services (QBS) laws, and jeopardizes public health, safety and welfare, while costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

According to analyst Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation, if 50 percent of those positions were opened for bid, taxpayers would save $10 billion to $14 billion a year. Utt’s studies of existing privatization efforts found that taxpayers save about 38 percent when private firms win contracts and about 20 percent when restructured public operations prevail.

MAPPS urges member firms to write their senators expressing opposition to the TRAC bill and to request their removal as cosponsors of the bill, if listed. MAPPS, along with the Coalition on Outsourcing and Privatization (COP), a coalition of business organizations, launched a website located at www.stoptrac.com to highlight the harmful consequences of the TRAC bill in Congress.

John Palatiello, MAPPS executive director and public affairs chairman of COP, notes, “The TRAC bill would seriously impair the government’s ability to contract with the private sector for critically needed commercial services necessary for everything from processing Social Security checks to running the nation’s air traffic control system, from cleaning up hazardous waste sites to making maps for our soldiers, sailors and airmen.”

In a statement given by Palatiello before the Commercial Activities Panel of the General Accounting Office, and the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy, he notes that the federal government currently employs more than 3,000 individuals in professional and technician level positions in surveying, cartography and geodesy. A conservative OMB estimate puts annual federal spending on surveying, mapping and geodesy at $1 billion, of which less than $200 million, or 20 percent, can be accounted for in contracts to the private sector. There are more than 6,000 surveying and mapping firms in the United States, employing more than 40,000 personnel, who could fulfill these jobs.

Expectations of S. 1152 lie on mid-ground. With Durbin’s status as the new chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, prospects are in favor of its passing. The Bush Administration, however, has voiced opposition to the bill. Opponents also include military leaders, who cite the bill’s potentially adverse impact on national security, and the Bush Administration’s new Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Angela Styles.

If passed, the Bush proposal will make it the first time that agencies would be required to use FAIR Act inventories, which list federal jobs that are commercial in nature. The FAIR Act directs federal agencies to issue each year an inventory of all commercial activities performed by federal employees.

Congress directed the General Accounting Office to convene a national panel to review the performance of commercial activities, public-private competitions and related “outsourcing” issues. The panel will report its recommendations to Congress in May 2002.

Bill S. 1152 has been read twice and as of its last status date of June 29, 2001, was referred to the Committee on Governmental Affairs. H.R. 721 was referred to the House Committee on Government Reform on Feb. 14, 2001, and to the Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy on March 7, 2001. Palatiello says MAPPS expects the TRAC bill to die in Congress subcommittee.

"Top Gun" winners, Smoky Mountain Land Surveying.

TAPS Surveyors Shoot Out

A few surveyors and a lot of fun go a long way. On July 7, 2001, the Middle-East Chapter of the Tennessee Association of Professional Surveyors (TAPS) held its sixth Annual Surveyor Shoot-Out in Knoxville, Tennessee. Attendees partook in music, munchies and measuring madness.

Each year a competition is held at the Surveyor Shoot-Out. Competitors complete traverses, take sideshots and perform layout work, with an emphasis on speed and accuracy. The winner is determined by a point system. Nine survey crews competed in this year’s event, but Smoky Mountain Land Surveying was presented the “Top Gun” award as “The Best Surveyors East of the Mississippi.” Howard Dawson, Jeff Paxton and Samuel Dawson represented the firm.

After the competition, participants, sponsors, attendees and families enjoyed a catered lunch and musical entertainment. More surveyors will benefit from the annual shoot-out too, as the surveying and mapping program at East Tennessee State University received a $1,000 donation from the TAPS Chapter.

POB editors compiled this month's stories for "The Latest News." If you have a timely, newsworthy item, contact 248/244-6465 or E-mail tuttlen@bnp.com. Also visit www.pobonline.com for daily news updates.