Point of Beginning

The Business of MAPPS: President's Perspective: How QBS Unites Us All

January 3, 2012


If there is a single issue that unites individual surveyors and geospatial professionals in disciplines such as satellite and airborne remote sensing, photogrammetry, aerial photography, mobile mapping, LiDAR, building information models (BIM), 3D mapping, hydrography, bathymetry, charting, aerial and satellite image processing, GPS, and GIS data collection and conversion services, it is support for qualifications-based selection (QBS).

Why do surveyors and other geospatial practitioners agree on QBS? There are a number of good reasons.

QBS is the law of the land in the federal government. Codified in the Brooks Act in 1972, the law was amended in 1988 to specifically apply to surveying and mapping. From BLM cadastral surveys to NOAA hydrographic collection, from NGA geospatial intelligence to FEMA flood maps, from USGS topos and orthos to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parcel data for facilities management, scores of federal agencies have successfully selected contractors based on demonstrated competence and qualifications rather than on the lowest bid.

For many years, ACSM and MAPPS have been members of the Council on Federal Procurement of Architecture and Engineering Services (COFPAES), the coalition that preserves, protects, defends and promotes QBS. These two organizations have been articulate spokesmen for the surveying and mapping community working with their architecture and engineering colleagues in effective advocacy of QBS before Congress and federal agencies.

Many state procurement laws also follow QBS. Almost every state has its own version of the Brooks Act, and many of these acts include surveying and mapping services. The American Bar Association Model Procurement Code for State and Local Government recommends QBS for both surveying and mapping.

The trend among state licensing boards, state legislatures and the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) is toward a blurring of the distinction between surveying and other geospatial disciplines. The NCEES Model Law includes a comprehensive definition of surveying that includes a variety of geospatial activities that are far beyond conventional boundary surveying. Many states have new survey licensing laws that also reflect a broader definition of services subject to licensing, with Florida first to adopt the title “professional surveyor and mapper,” or PSM.

Licensing and QBS are separate issues. In fact, a federal regulation specifically states, “The performance of surveying and mapping services will not be limited to registered or licensed architect-engineer firms, but will also include surveying and mapping professionals such as licensed surveyors, geodesists, and cartographers.” However, given that the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) states unequivocally that “surveying is considered to be an architectural and engineering service and shall be procured pursuant to section 36.601” (the section outlining QBS procedures), the broader the definition of surveying, the more expansive the reach of QBS.

P.T. Barnum is well known for saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But Barnum, an astute businessman and writer on business ethics, also wrote, “The smartest way of deriving the greatest profit in the long run is to give people as much as possible for their money.” QBS is one way to ensure this value.


The nineteenth century British author John Ruskin is attributed as saying, “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money--that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot--it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

Selecting surveyors, photogrammetrists or other geospatial professionals on the basis of qualifications does not result in higher costs. Indeed, given that these services amount to less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the total life cycle cost of a structure, facility, or program on which these services are dependent, it is clear that the investment in quality in geospatial services saves money and contributes to public health, welfare and safety.

When a surveying or geospatial professional is chosen based on their low bid with the goal of achieving a lower-cost project, often the end result is just the opposite. Once the professional finds he or she cannot meet the project requirements for the bid price, “extras” or “change orders” are requested and/or corners are cut in the production and quality assurance process. The relationship between the professional and client deteriorates to the point where there is no trust, and the client’s overhead cost increases significantly due to incurring 100 percent of the quality control on the deliverables. In the worst case, the professional defaults on a contract. QBS avoids these problems by ensuring that the most qualified firm is selected for each project.

QBS unites surveyors and practitioners in the variety of geospatial disciplines. Both individually and through our professional associations such as MAPPS, we should each do our part in promoting QBS and assuring that current laws are fully and properly implemented and enforced.