Has There Been Enough Response to the MAPPS Litigation?

By Adena Schutzberg

In the past few weeks this and other publications, along with a few blogs, have discussed the not-as-yet-begun trial resulting from the Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS) et al. suing the United States regarding how the Brooks Act is implemented in federal law. I've wondered, and other people have asked me, why it seems so few people care about this litigation, which may have significant impact on who does what in the geospatial arena in the future. That's a good question.

Do only a few people care?

Can we accurately say that "few people care"? How would we know? We have had 13 comments to date on our January 19 article, "February's Brooks Act Litigation: What Geospatial Practitioners Need to Know." I believe that article was the first in recent months on the topic, at least on the Web. That number is perhaps a bit higher than the usual number for a "hot article" on our site. I do have to point out that many of the responses spoke not to the litigation, but to the concept and implementation of licensing of geospatial professionals. That topic is related to the litigation since the legislation in question speaks to licensing, though the implementation of licensing (who is licensed and how that licensing done) is not at issue in the lawsuit.

In researching our article a few weeks ago I searched the Internet to find background information on the suit. I found quite a few articles sourced to MAPPS and a MAPPS webpage which includes a detailed history of the concern from its perspective. An Association of American Geographers (AAG) webpage offers its perspective and legal documents.

MAPPS is a business association "dedicated to developing the growth and improving the bottom line profitability of its member firms." Some would refer to it as a lobbying organization. Unlike the AAG and the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA), for example, MAPPS is what is referred to as a 501(c)(6) organization for tax purposes. That means, among other things, it has quite a bit of leeway to push its agenda in the federal legislature and elsewhere. AAG and URISA are what are known as 501(c)(3) organizations. They, too, can push their agendas, but there are restrictions.

Professional organizations have stepped up in opposition to MAPPS' request for summary judgment in the case. AAG and four other groups have offered an amicus brief (pdf). We invited organizations to share their positions. Some offered formal positions and AAG offered a legal brief ("Responses on the Brooks Act Litigation"). Several organizations contacted their memberships on the matter and are preparing articles on the topic for upcoming newsletters. URISA offered its position statement as a press release, while other organizations posted resources on their websites (GISCI, for example).

Jesse at Very Spatial offered this piece of anecdotal information: "Everybody I have talked to about the case has had something to say, so it is surprising that not more discussion is taking place on the blogs regarding a geospatial case that has made it to Federal Court ... no matter what the outcome."

Why is it so quiet?
Assume for the sake of argument that this lawsuit, which could have substantial impact on geospatial professionals, has not reached the level of discussion that might be appropriate. Why is that? Here are some suggested answers:
  1. This is a complex lawsuit. I spent hours trying to understand just the legal aspects of the suit. I knew nothing of the Federal Acquisition Register (FAR) or of the history of the Brooks Act. I was familiar with Qualifications Based Solicitations since I'd heard and read about it in the past.
  2. The implications of a win or loss by MAPPS et al. are unclear. MAPPS presents one outcome and AAG et al., a different one. These are detailed in this PDF, Section I.
  3. There's little geospatial professionals can do. This is not pending legislation, where those concerned could mount a campaign to convince our congressional representatives to vote one way or another. This is a trial, where the best those concerned can do is offer an amicus brief on behalf of one side or the other. Creating one is complex, usually requiring a lawyer. Further, such briefs were due on January 24, so that opportunity has passed.
  4. The geospatial community doesn't have an organization like MAPPS, which actively lobbies for its members. In a recent poll of our readers, 64% said we should form such an organization soon (n=128).
  5. Some in the geospatial community have nothing to do with federal contracts.
What can we learn? What might we do?
Is it, as our poll respondents felt, time to launch a lobbying organization? It's not a simple question since such an organization would need leadership, and members (individuals or companies) who pay dues. And, of course, there's got to be enough "going on" to justify a long-term commitment. The current suit is one topic that might be explored. Changes in state legislation regarding mapping is a second. Do these define a large enough palette to tackle? What if the geospatial community mounts a fight in Congress for a true NSDI? This was discussed in the context of GIS for public safety years ago by Jack Dangermond of ESRI and Fred Corle of, I believe the now defunct, Spatial Technologies Industry Association (STIA, a 501(c)(6)) at a NSGIC meeting years back. Would that sort of broad goal help justify such an organization?

I also wonder about the role of our professional organizations in such matters. While they have different missions from MAPPS, they do educate their members on legal and professional matters. There has been a flurry of activity in geospatial professional organizations as states have moved to include mapping under the licensure of surveying in recent years. There was another flurry when GISCI created and launched its certification process. And here's a third flurry, as this litigation goes to trial. Can they... should they do more?

Does the geospatial community need to pay more attention to Washington politics? Should more publications cover this beat? Do we have people savvy enough to do so? MAPPS does this via a twice monthly Capital Coverage, a resource on its website for members.

Can it be argued that the geospatial community has done "enough"? That the community truly understands the situation and has spoken out appropriately?

We Have No Answers
While I'm sure many of you would like me and my colleagues to take a position on this case and "tell you what to do," the reality is well-stated by David Smith, in a recent comment on the matter: "[We are] bound by whatever the outcome may be."

The best that we at Directions can do is inform you regarding what's going on, who's saying what, and keep you up to date. We can also encourage you to look forward. What might the geospatial community do to prepare for a "next time," if there is a next time? Speak to your colleagues. Speak to the organization to which you belong. Start a new organization, perhaps via some level of coordination from existing geospatial organizations, if that's needed. If there is something to be learned from this situation, let's learn from it.

Published Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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