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Court rules on federal acquisition of mapping services

In mid June, the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., ruled in MAPPS, et. al. v. United States that the Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS) and its co-plaintiffs, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the Council on Federal Procurement of Architectural and Engineering Services, do not have standing to bring the question of whether the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) properly require qualifications-based selection (QBS) for contracting a broad scope of surveying and mapping services. The MAPPS case was opposed by the Association of American Geographers, the GIS Certification Institute, the Geospatial Information & Technology Association, the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS), and the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association. These five groups joined in an amicus brief opposing MAPPS’ claims.

According to a joint statement from the opposing groups, the MAPPS lawsuit, if successful, would have "limited competition for federal mapping contracts of nearly every type, including GIS services, to firms of licensed architects, engineers, and surveyors" and "had far-reaching negative impacts on cartographers, geographers, computer scientists, planners, foresters, GIS specialists, governmental agencies, GIS service companies, and many others who have long been creative, innovative, and productive forces in the mapping and GIS fields."

MAPPS and its partners filed suit to force the FAR Council to "promulgate regulations that accurately and comprehensively provide for federal procurement of architectural and engineering services, including surveying and mapping, to follow the QBS process in the Brooks Act," which was enacted in 1972 and last amended in 1988.

In its decision, however, the District Court said, "Nothing in the legislative history of the 1988 amendment suggests that the phrase ‘surveying and mapping’ was intended to broaden the Brooks Act’s focus from construction on federal lands to the procurement of mapping services unrelated to construction on real property. … The record unambiguously reflects that the provision of ‘mapping’ services in the modern marketplace includes a much broader scope of work than the traditional mapping work of land surveyors."

MAPPS says that it agrees with this last statement and that the court’s ruling on a lack of standing does not address the legal merits of its case, leaving the question of the application of QBS to federal mapping projects unresolved and the "door open to further litigation."

"MAPPS remains committed to professionalism and the ability of our members and others to fully and openly compete for federal contracts based on competence and qualifications, rather than on price," the association says. In a recent speech to the Geomatics Industry Association of Canada, MAPPS Excutive Director John Palatiello characterized opposition to the QBS process for government geospatial contracts as a "race to the bottom" and "dumbing down" of the industry.

However, in a position statement on the lawsuit, the UCGIS says, "Of greater concern to UCGIS member institutions than the proposed changes to procurement policy is the implication that the practice of mapping (broadly defined), like the practice of land surveying, should be subject to state regulation. … UCGIS objects to the MAPPS lawsuit insofar as it incorrectly implies that licensed architects, engineers, and land surveyors are most qualified to provide all mapping services."

Additional background on the MAPPS lawsuit is available here. Opposing views are available on the UCGIS website. What’s your view? Send a brief e-mail to civilconnection@cenews.com.