This is the third column in a three-part series on The Future of Surveying in the United States.

Article Index:

The first piece addressed the question, “Where are we at now?” In a frank look at the current survey business, we explored what we are doing right and how we can improve. The second column attempted to answer the question, “Where are we going from here?” It was dream look at what and how technology will affect our business. Will we lose all significance?

Now, we will ask, “How will we get there from here?” This is, we hope, a realistic look at the changes that need to be made — not just window dressing but changes that will keep the surveyor relevant in the future.

Timeframe for the Future

Recently, I was talking to a friend about the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF), and wondered aloud whether the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) would implement it during the next six years. He didn’t think he was in favor of that. I told him I didn’t want to think in terms of six or even 10 years. Rather, in terms of time, I would like to think of 50 years. While this seems like a long period of time, just think of the changes I have seen in the last 50 years.

While my predictions in the last column may not all be correct, consider the changes that need to happen. The changes needed on how we regulate and manage surveying are real. How will we accomplish these changes?

Staying Relevant

My greatest fear is that we will slowly give away to others the right to work we now perform, either by default or legislative action. Many of those different tools at stake are mobile mapping, UAV photogrammetry and GPS services. This transition is already happening in many states.

A few states have it right, where they include mapping under survey services. This needs to be done in all states, but also include LiDAR and mobile mapping services. A licensed surveyor also needs to be responsible for the base mapping layer of any GIS system. It will not be easy. I will tell you later how we can accomplish all these changes.

ALTA Survey/National License

American Land Title Association (ALTA) boundary surveys are the mainstay of many companies and comprise the majority of their work. They are in many cases products produced in many different states from a single location. The industry secret is they are signed in many cases by surveyors who did not do the work, but just signed and sealed the plat. This is because it is impossible to be licensed in all the states.

I am aware this practice is against the code of ethics in most states, but still happens every day. If the truth were known, hardly a surveyor licensed today has not signed a plat for an out-of-state friend or associate.

The answer to this problem is simple and could happen if we approach the issue with an open mind. Each state would have to adopt the same legislation to become a surveyor. We already all take the same test from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). While I will acknowledge there are some differences in surveying state to state, the difference is not as great as some want you to believe. It would take for the various state boards of registration to recognize each other’s licenses. Could this happen? Yes, just not quickly. But it is an idea that would move surveying forward in the eyes of the public.

State Boards of Licensure

Most boards are so focused inward that they can’t see the big picture. The big picture is to protect the public. Most boards focus on making the surveyor do right by piling on more regulations and rules, instead of letting the professional practice as the professionals we are. Most problems with surveyors deal with repeat offenders. All the rules and regulations in the world will never make those few repeat offenders do the proper survey.

To truly protect the public, the boards need to focus on the many companies today doing survey-related work without the benefit of licensure. To make the changes necessary to bring these companies in compliance would necessitate changing survey legislation. Most boards fear legislation because of unintended consciences. I do understand; remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

One last thing, boards of licensure, we the licensed are your friend, not your enemy. We are the professionals who protect the public with the wonderful products we deliver to our clients.

State Survey Societies

This is a very mixed bag. I was down on state societies as just being seminar businesses, but this is changing. Many of the state societies are getting a better understanding of what a professional group should provide to its members and the community at large.

Much work still needs to be accomplished. Scholarships should be one of the top priorities. We need to help future surveyors get their education. Very little is being published in the way of history of surveying in their respective states. There is also a desperate need for technical books on modern survey technology. These efforts could be funded by state societies.

Public relations is another area where work could be done. Workshops are needed to run state boundaries with the results published in state newspapers and online. How about documenting old road routes, putting them online and available to school teachers, with a local surveyor available to talk to the class about the importance of transportation including roads and rivers? Keep past presidents of societies active assigning special projects and duties.

This is only a partial list of what could be done. Have a yearly planning meeting of the society establishing short- and long-term goals. Remember, fail to plan, plan to fail.

Education of the Surveyor

This may be one of the most important steps — making the education system fit the needs of the survey community. A good first step would be to standardize the curriculum of all survey programs and make the programs available online. I believe we will always be faced with the problem that most people wanting to be surveyors are already working in the profession. Providing online education along with some on-campus work would provide the number of people needed to continue our profession with a proper education.

One of the weakest links in our current education system is teaching the art of land surveying. The following system would address that problem.

A bold idea would be to have a two-tier system. When you finish your basic education, you would receive a Bachelor of Science degree. Then, you could test to be a Professional Surveyor (PS) limited to technical services not including land surveying. After another year of study and field work, you would be awarded a Master of Science degree in land surveying. You would be tested and become a licensed PS, PLS, etc. I think this scenario would be in line with what other professions are requiring from their people.


It was 25 years ago that the idea of having all members of state societies also be members of the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) was presented at ACSM/NSPS. Due to leadership at the top levels, this is now becoming a reality. For the states that have not yet embraced this concept, we need you to get on board. The leadership needed over the next 50 years needs to come from younger surveyors. At the end of the next 50 years, I will be 125 years old, so I don’t think you can count on me.

I truly believe that many of the ideas I have expressed can be accomplished through a strong national society such as NSPS with cooperation from state societies and boards of licensure. We all need to pull together, putting small differences aside and working for the common good of the profession.

Can we as surveyors control our future? You bet we can. In fact, many of the goals I have presented are already being worked on. Remember, we have the next 50 years to get this accomplished!

The Bold Plan

Veteran surveyor Milton Denny has identified five main goals to ensure the future prosperity of the profession:

  • National Licenses

  • Changing State Licensing Laws

  • Building/Improving State Societies

  • Education of the PS/PLS

  • A Strong National Society