The Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives is expected to vote on Thursday, April 18 on H.R. 1577, the Federal Prison Industries Reform bill.
COFPAES has been working on this legislation for several years. They see it as their chance to curb Federal and state prison industries, which are increasingly entering the scanning, digitizing and GIS market, and being forced on A/Es on our Federal contracts.
The A/E and surveying and mapping community is deeply concerned about the encroachment of Federal Prison Industries (FPI) into activities where public health, safety and welfare demand the judgment of trained and experienced professionals. Particularly, they are concerned that FPI has developed a capability to provide scanning and digitizing services to other Federal agencies. According to FPI documents, it is "broadening its prime contractor role ... in the areas of ... digitization of maps for GIS applications, digitization of engineering and facilities management drawings (am/fm), scanning and digitizing, CALS conversions."
Moreover, FPI has forced other Federal agencies to require private architects and engineers to specify FPI as a source for material in the specifications we and other architect-engineer firms develop on public buildings and facilities. This does not result in the best value to the taxpayer over the life cycle cost of such a facility and seriously ties the hands of design professionals with regard to specifying the most economic and efficient components in Federal buildings and facilities.
The services FPI and the State prisons are providing, while technical in nature, support professional architect-engineer (A/E) services. In recognition of the importance of using the highest quality contractors to perform such services, Congress in 1972 enacted a qualifications based selection law (PL92-582) and later amended it to clarify that it applies to mapping services (40 U.S.C. 541 et. seq.) This law requires Federal agencies to award A/E contracts (including those for surveying or mapping services) to firms based on their "demonstrated competence and qualification" subject to negotiation of a fee "fair and reasonable to the government", rather than awarding such contracts to the lowest bidder. The vast majority of States have also adopted this process in their codes and it is recommended by the American Bar Association in its Model Procurement Code for State and Local Government. Use of prison labor jeopardizes this quality.
Public health, welfare and safety is dependent on the quality of work performed by professionals in the fields of architecture, engineering, surveying and mapping. To add to these highly technical and professional services drawings, maps and images processed by prison inmates is not in the public interest. Furthermore, it may violate State licensing laws which require professional architects, engineers, surveyors and mappers to be in "responsible charge" of work which they ultimately certify and for which they assume responsibility.
COFPAES believes mapping is an inappropriate area for prison industry activity. Public health, welfare and safety is dependent on the quality of work performed by mapping professionals.
To add to this highly technical and professional field drawings, maps and images processed by prison inmates, they feel, is not only an affront to the professionals in this field, but questionable to the public interest.
COFPAES believes permitting prisoners access to data important to national security, or information about individual citizen's property and assets, is also unwise and an encroachment on citizens' civil liberties.
COFPAES believes H.R. 1577 strikes the necessary balance between meaningful employment and training of inmates on one hand, and competition and quality in Federal procurement on the other. Urge support for H.R. 1577 in the Judiciary Committee.
Prisoners should work, and H.R. 1577 will continue to provide work opportunities. The bill promotes level playing field competition between prison industries and the private sector and focuses prisoners on appropriate work, not questionable areas like mapping.