Posted By Rich Breitlow,
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Richard Breitlow is an account executive with AGFA Materials Corporation, where he specializes in aerial photography product sales. He is the former chairman of the Aerial Acquisition Committee of MAPPS with more than 38 years’ experience in the aerial photography business.
Recently, President Obama proposed a Federal debt and deficit reduction plan that includes slower and longer depreciation schedules for business owned aircraft. While billed as eliminating a tax loophole for corporate executives’ jets, the proposal would also adversely affect small businesses, including aerial imagery and geospatial data collection operators. MAPPS has already commented
Now the "President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction" has been released, including a proposed $100 per flight fee for air traffic control services. This double-whammy on the aerial survey profession is both economically unwise and politically burdensome and unfair.
Like other aviation related associations, MAPPS recognizes the need to pay for air traffic control (ATC) services. General aviation has historically paid for those services through fuel taxes, commonly referred to as "pay at the pump". The proposed $100 fee per flight would add a whole new accounting requirement and new level of government bureaucracy just to administer and enforce the new requirement. The best way for general aviation to pay for ATC services is to continue to pay at the pump. Whether the current amount taxed is appropriate, or should be raised is another argument. Certainly there is a lot of waste in FAA spending that should be eliminated before increases are considered.
The Obama Administration portrayed the proposed fee as a tax on corporate jets. However the actual wording only excludes military aircraft, public aircraft, recreational piston aircraft, air ambulances, aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace, and Canada-to-Canada flights. All aerial survey flights in controlled airspace would be subject to the proposed fee, regardless of aircraft type. MAPPS has gone on record in opposition to per flight air traffic control fees.
Adding a $100 fee per flight for ATC services would only further burden a profession already hard-hit by the decline in the housing market, and the economy in general, and would certainly have a negative impact on hiring. This fee would have just the opposite effect of the intent of the President's "jobs bill".
Lobbyists for commercial airlines have long favored measures to shift a larger share of the burden for ATC services to general aviation. However, attempts in the past to include a per flight ATC user fee or "charge" in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Authorization bill have been met with stiff opposition.
The current effort will, and should, meet a similar fate.
While the President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction appears to have little chance of passing Congress, parts of it could find its way into the "Super Committee's" plan to reduce the national debt and annual government deficit. This is where the real danger lies.
In order to protect the interests of the aerial survey profession, and the public and clients we serve, I suggest:
the current Pay at the Pump method be preserved as the best way for general aviation to help pay for ATC services and the "fee per flight" concept be rejected,
Identify "Super Committee” members who are aviation friendly and urge them to either reject the fee outright, or adopt wording to exclude flights that are primarily work operations, such as small businesses operating aircraft for aerial surveys.
Identify FAA activities that can be reformed, eliminated or privatized to save money and explore a more balanced and equitable method of paying for FAA and ATC services that does not unfairly target general aviation generally or aerial survey operations in particular.
Posted By Nick Palatiello,
Thursday, September 15, 2011
On September 12 MAPPS Executive Director John Palatiello was one of five witnesses who testified
at a public hearing by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) entitled,
"Withholding on Payments by Government Entities to Persons Providing
Property or Services.” The hearing was to address legislation enacted by
Congress calling for a 3 percent withholding on all federal contracts,
including mapping, surveying and geospatial activities, with the IRS in
charge of implementing regulations on section 3402(t) of the Internal
Palatiello reiterated MAPPS opposition to the 3 percent withholding. He
said even with a recent change in the Federal Acquisition Regulation
(section 52.232-10), A/E firms, including those in surveying and
mapping, still face a potential retainage or withholding of 13 percent
on Federal contracts, an amount often in excess of the net profit. He
said small business cannot afford to be in the banking business, making
interest free loans to the federal government. He also said the
withholding will drive firms out of the Federal contracting market at a
time when we should be encouraging more competition.
As a means to help business, Palatiello urged that all long-term
contracts be grandfathered. In particular, an indefinite
delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contract should be grandfathered,
and the 3%withholding should not apply to any task order entered into or
against the ID/IQ contract after the effective date of the IRS
regulation. The same policy should apply to other types of contract
vehicles, such as GSA Schedule and Basic Ordering Agreements (BOAs), he
told the IRS.
In 2009, MAPPS testified at an IRS oversight hearing opposing 3 percent withholding.
MAPPS is a member of the Government Withholding Coalition (the
Coalition), led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Coalition was
formed to seek repeal of Section 511 of Public Law No. 109-222, which
mandates the sweeping new requirement that federal, sate and local
governments withhold 3% of their payments for goods and services (the
government withholding regime).
Currently there is bi-partisan support in Congress to repeal the withholding. H.R. 674 and S. 164 are
intended to "amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the
imposition of 3 percent withholding on certain payments made to vendors
by government entities.” The bills are cosponsored by a bipartisan group
of 250 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 21 U.S.
Senators. This legislation is a priority for the Republican leadership
in the House and is scheduled to be debated this fall. President Obama
has included a delay in the effective date of the withholding in his
recently unveiled jobs package.
Posted By John Palatiello,
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Obama - and almost every other political figure on the American
landscape – has at one time or another declared that small business is
the backbone of America’s economy. Then why is the President proposing
to raise taxes on the very entrepreneurs he’s counting on to create
Photo provided by Keystone Aerial Surveys
Monday, President Obama formally sent his "American Jobs Act” to
Congress. As promised in his address to Congress and the Nation last
Thursday, the package includes measures to pay for his latest proposal
to jump start the American economy. Included in the bill is a provision
on "General Aviation Aircraft Treated As 7-Year Property”. That’s tax
jargon for the President’s now infamous but inaccurate attack on a tax
loophole for corporate jets.
fact of the matter is most general aviation aircraft is owned by small
to mid-sized businesses, not corporate fat cats. These planes and
helicopters are not used to whisk CEO’s off to exotic destinations.
Rather, they are used for aerial photography in support of surveying and
mapping of new highways, monitor dangerous encroachment of underground
pipelines, conduct danger tree surveys to prevent power outages, apply
fertilizer and pesticides to crops for maximum yield of food by farmers,
researching the atmosphere and environment, keep an eye on traffic, and
move employees, customers, cargo and products.
President’s plan is based on polling and focus group sessions that show
average Americans frustration with tax loopholes that permit some
individuals and businesses to pay little or no taxes. In fact, what is
at issue is the length of time a taxpayer is permitted for depreciation
of an asset, in this case an airplane. Owners of business aircraft can
depreciate their investment over five years. President Obama has
proposed changing the depreciation schedule for general aviation
aircraft to seven years calling the current five year schedule a tax
loophole. The depreciation schedule for general aviation aircraft has
been in existence since the early 1980s. Business aircraft are treated
similarly to other assets such as cars, trucks, and certain equipment,
which can be depreciated over a five year period when purchased for
to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), in the first
six months of 2011, total general aviation airplane shipments worldwide
fell 15.5 percent, from 936 in 2010 to 791 this year. There is no doubt
the Obama proposal would only make this situation worse.
depreciation schedules create jobs. The faster a business can expense
capital equipment, the faster it can buy more – putting more people to
work. Making it difficult for businesses to purchase and depreciate
aircraft will not punish wealthy CEO’s, but reduce jobs for the pilots,
crews, mechanics, airport operations workers, and ultimately the folks
that work the assembly lines at aircraft factories. At a time when
application of digital aerial imagery, LIDAR and other airborne acquired
geospatial data is exploding, aerial photographers, surveyors, and
users of geospatial services will also see their jobs jeopardized.
is difficult to see how taxing aircraft supports the broader goal of
addressing the nation's job crisis. This proposal is virtually identical
to what happened in 1990 when Congress imposed a "luxury” tax on
yachts. The rich people who could afford these boats were unaffected,
but the workers built them lost their jobs. As a result, Congress
scrambled to repeal the tax. Pardon the pun, but Congress should not let
the plane tax proposal ever get off the ground.
Posted By Nick Palatiello,
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 11, 2011
MAPPS has been deeply involved in a number of important issues of late, so this blog post will be a potpourri on several topics of interest to the private geospatial community.
The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) met in Washington, DC on June 8. Surprisingly and disappointingly, it was the first meeting of the group responsible for coordination of federal geospatial activities since President Obama took office 2½ years ago. The agenda was long on reports and short on votes, decisions, and actions. In fact, no votes were taken or policy decisions made. A lot of frustration was expressed and promises were made for action before the next meeting, the date of which was not established. I was pleased to be recognized by Acting Chair, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Anne Castle, to express concern for three threats to the geospatial community – government service and private practice alike. Those were the threat the LightSquared application to the FCC poses for interference with GPS signals and all GPS users, the FCC "privacy” rules that propose to limit the collection, storage and use of "precise geolocation data” without defining that term, and the criminalization of directing laser pointers at aircraft or their flight path, with LiDAR manufacturers’ interpreting the definition of the term "laser pointer” to include LiDAR. Fortunately, Ms. Castle took note of all three and agreed to follow up on each.
Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have introduced a Senate version of the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act, to provide a current, accurate inventory of all land owned by the federal government, and to have an inventory of existing inventories conducted to identify those that are out of date, obsolete, redundant, non-interoperable or can otherwise be eliminated in favor of the new, current, accurate GIS-based cadaster. S. 1153 is a companion to H.R. 1620, which was introduced in the House earlier this year by Rep. Ron Kind (R-WI) and Rob Bishop (R-UT). ACSM and NSGIC are among the groups that have joined MAPPS in support of the bill in the past. The bill was also recommended by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The NRC/NAS report recommendations have in turn been endorsed by the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) and the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO).
The issue of government duplicating and competing with the private sector in the performance of commercially-available activities is getting a lot of attention these days.
The tragic tornado that hit Joplin, MO has also stirred up a storm of controversy. NOAA dispatches an aircraft from Tampa, FL to capture aerial imagery. Problem is, such digital aerial imagery had already been acquired, days earlier, by two private firms in Missouri, Surdex and MJ Harden. The NOAA aerial photography unit has been documented by the Commerce Department Inspector General as being inferior to the private sector in cost and quality and privatization of the government capability has been recommended. Moreover, a federal law, known as the Economy Act, implemented in the Federal Acquisition Regulation, requires an agency proposing to provide a service to another agency to prepare a determination and findings (D&F) that "the supplies or services cannot be obtained as conveniently or economically by contracting directly with a private source.” It is not known if NOAA prepared the D&F or if it did, how did it justify being more convenient or economical than aerial imagery already acquired.
The U.S. of Representatives has tackled two aspects of government performing commercial activities. An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Bill for 2012 by Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY) puts Congress on record as being opposed to insourcing - an Obama Administration program to convert work currently performed by private sector contractor firms to performance by Federal government employees. In her speech in the House debate, Rep. Hayworth mentioned mapping as an example of a commercial activity that has been insourced in some agencies. The Hayworth amendment was approved on a voice vote.
A provision in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012 was stripped of a provision that would have prevented DHS from contracting out activities currently carried out by government employees, even if commercially available. The amendment to remove the anti-free enterprise language, offered by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), was approved by a 218-204 vote.
More news about MAPPS activities will be available next week in our bi-montly newsletter FLIGHTLINE, a link will be posted on the blog. Additionally, MAPPS is gearing up for a full program at the 2011 Summer Conference June 26-30 in Bolton Landing (Lake George), NY.
Posted By Nick Palatiello,
Monday, May 2, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 11, 2011
The staff of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) facilitated a meeting on Wednesday, April 27 to engage geospatial interests in federal, state and local government agencies, and the private sector in a dialogue with the staff of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding the FTC staff report, "Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change" and its proposal that firms engaged in collection, sharing or use of "precise geolocation data" about a citizen be required to obtain "affirmative express consent” or advance approval of each such citizen.
MAPPS Executive Director John Palatiello was invited to the meeting representing the private sector firms in the MAPPS membership. The meeting resulted in a number of revelations. But first, a little background.
In February 2009, the FTC issued a report "Behavioral Advertising Tracking, Targeting, & Technology” wherein it defined behavioral advertising as "the practice of tracking an individual’s online activities in order to deliver advertising tailored to the individual’s interests.” While the report used the term "precise geographic location”, it was limited to internet activities, such as the use of "cookies" (FTC defined a cookie as a small text file that a website’s server places on a computer’s web browser. The cookie transmits information back to the website’s server about the browsing activities of the computer user on the site.) As a result of this relatively narrow scope of the report, it did not garner the attention of the geospatial community.
Legislation billed as protecting consumer privacy was drafted and introduced in Congress in 2010. The Privacy report, a follow-up to the Behavior Advertising study, was much broader in its scope, application and reach, as well as its discussion of geolocation and its proposal for regulation of such activities, thus attracting the concern and attention of geospatial professionals. MAPPS submitted comments to the FTC, issued a call for members' action, made a presentation to the National Geospatial Advisory, and secured letters of opposition to the FTC proposal from FGDC,vthe Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO), numerous MAPPS members and other stakeholders in the geospatial community.
The community’s comments to FTC caused the April 27 FGDC-facilitated meeting, held at the U.S. Department of the Interior headquarters building in Washington, DC.
At the April 27 meeting, Palatiello pointed out that since the FTC only has jurisdiction over private, for profit companies (and not nonprofits organizations or universities, or government agencies), the FTC proposal would result in an unlevel playing field and unfair government competition with private firms. The FTC staff confirmed its existing statutory authority is limited to commercial companies. The discrimination against these companies was called unfair by a Federal agency official in the meeting. Palatiello noted that while government agencies are not covered by FTC’s enforcement powers, the FTC privacy proposal did not exempt private firms working as contractors to government agencies.
The FTC staff, led by Christopher Olsen, Bureau of Consumer Protection, as well as attorneys Peder Magee and Katie Ratte of FTC's Division of Privacy & Identity Protection, complimented MAPPS for mobilizing comments from its members and the broader geospatial community. Olsen called the comments "helpful” to calling attention to the expansive and undefined use of the term "precise geolocation data”. He said "what you people (geospatial professionals) do is beyond what we intended” and admitted FTC needs to "put meat on the bones” of a definition of precise geolocation data in its final report.
Olson said the FTC staff’s intent is to control "pinpoint unique individuals in a precise location” and the collection of information on the "location of an individual, computer or device”.
Palatiello called such a narrowing "helpful” and "reassuring”. He noted that MAPPS attempted, but was unable to define "precise geolocation data” for the purpose of FTC or Congressional intentions on privacy, but did recommend an exemption from such term. That exemption included:
1. Any information about the location and shape of, and the relationships among, geographic features, including remotely sensed and map data;
2. Any graphical or digital data depicting natural or manmade physical features, phenomena, or boundaries of the earth and any information related thereto, including surveys, maps, charts, remote sensing data, and images;
3. Collection, storage, retrieval, or dissemination of graphical or digital data to depict natural or manmade physical features, phenomena, or boundaries of the earth and any information related to such data, including any such data that comprises a survey, map, chart, geographic information system, remotely sensed image or data, or an aerial photograph by surveyors, photogrammetrists, hydrographers, geodesists, cartographers, or other such mapping and geospatial professionals; and data originating from commercial satellite systems licensed to operate by the U.S. government, global positioning systems, geographic information systems, and airborne or terrestrial mapping equipment.
Palatiello also echoed comments by MAPPS member Kevin Pomfret, Esq (LeClairRyan, Richmond, VA) that any such definition or exemption must not preclude the development of new technologies, activities or applications or thwart the innovation that is driving the market.
Posted By Nick Palatiello,
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 11, 2011
Two pieces of legislation working their way through Congress could create new demand for geospatial data that may result in more business opportunities for MAPPS member firms. Provisions adding guy-wires and freestanding towers as features shown in FAA aeronautical charting data and adding x,y, and z coordinates to structures on FEMA flood insurance rate maps have received initial approval in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) had noticed that in recent years, low-flying aviators have faced an increased threat of uncharted, man-made obstructions that are difficult to see and avoid. There have been a number of pilot fatalities caused by collisions with unlit and unmarked guy-wire and freestanding towers. The most recent fatality occurred on January 10 when an agricultural aircraft collided with a guy-wire tower in Oakley, California.
Aviators who routinely operate aircraft at low altitudes face the threat of colliding with these structures, some of which have a diameter of only six to eight inches and are secured with guy-wires that connect at multiple heights and anchor to the ground. Affected pilots include Emergency Medical Services, firefighters, agricultural crop dusters, fish and wildlife service aircraft, mosquito control and many others.
Rep. Neugebauer offered an amendment to H.R. 658, the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act, to direct the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct a feasibility study on the development of an internet-based public resource that would list the exact height, longitude, and latitude of potential low-altitude aviation obstructions. The provision of this data would enable the public and pilots who fly at low levels to know where these structures are located. The data would allow aviators to obtain the information necessary to avoid these structures in their flight plans.
MAPPS supported the amendment. When FAA conducts the study, we will have a seat at the table. H.R. 658 subsequently passed the House. A companion bill, S. 223, has passed the U.S. Senate, without the tower and guy-wire provision. A House-Senate Conference Committee will soon meet to reconcile differences between the two chambers’ bills.
FEMA Flood Insurance Reform
The House Financial Services Committee has begun work on H.R. 1309, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), chair of the Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity. The Subcommittee reported the bill to the full committee on April 6 with a provision approved as an amendment offered by Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) to study the collection display of the vertical positioning of structures on FEMA flood insurance maps. The bill re-establishes a Technical Mapping Advisory Committee (TMAC), of which there would be members from the private mapping community. The Stivers Amendment asks the TMAC to do an analysis of collecting vertical positioning data.
Posted By Nick Palatiello,
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 11, 2011
Numerous policy and market opportunity pronouncements were unveiled at the 20th annual MAPPS Federal Programs Conference, held March 15-16 in Washington, DC. More than 90 MAPPS member firm principals, owners, partners and senior pro- fessionals converged in the nation's capital for briefings and meetings with more than 20 Federal agency officials, as well as more than 150 vis- its to the offices of Represen- tatives and Senators in the U.S. Congress.
At the Federal agency briefings on March 15, MAPPS members were treated to first-look information that could lead to upcoming business opportunities for private geo- spatial firms. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s (NGA’s) Dennis Morgan announced that its request for proposals for Geospatial Intelligence (GeoINT) Data Readiness (GDR) contacts, the successor to the current Global Geospatial Intelligence (GGI) contracts, will be issued later this year. Additionally, FEMA‟s Paul Rooney noted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its request for qualifications from firms for contracts for Remote Sensing to Support Incident Management and Homeland Security days be- fore the MAPPS session.
While MAPPS was in Washington, the Small Business Administration (SBA) released its proposal to revise "size standards” or definitions of small businesses in a variety of Professional, Technical, and Scientific Services categories. The classification for surveying and mapping, as well as architecture and engineering, is proposed to rise from $4.5 to $19 million in gross annual receipts, measured on a three year average.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provided an update on its role in producing a national broadband map, compiled from individual state mapping efforts, and plans for a next-gen 911 system. Michael Byrne, the Geo- spatial Information Officer (GIO) of the FCC, assured MAPPS members that the FCC is well aware of the GPS interference posed by the LightSquared application, that the FCC understands the concerns expressed by MAPPS and others in our community, and that the LightSquared application will either be rejected or amended to assure no interference with GPS. While noting he could not comment on an ongoing investigation, Byrne said FCC’s inquiry of certain Google activities will not result in regulation of the broader geospatial community. He reported the caution provided by MAPPS was helpful in educating the FCC on the activities of the private geospatial profession. The privacy issue was also addressed by Karen Siderelis, GIO of the Department of the Interior and chairman of the Federal Geographic Data Committee’s (FGDC)’s executive committee. She reported on a meeting between FGDC and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff in which the FTC said it was "flooded” with comments on proposed regulations prohibiting the collection, storage or use of "precise geolocation data" without a citizens' prior approval. Siderelis said the FTC admitted it inappropriately used the term, resulting in an "unintended consequence” that would be corrected in the final rule. FTC is also considering a work- shop with the geospatial community to identify ways to implement privacy protections against phishing and cyber stalking, without disturbing the legitimate activities of geospatial firms.
Both Siderelis and BLM Chief Cadastral Surveyor Don Buhler predicted a demand in boundary data on Indian lands resulting from settlement of the Cobell case. Buhler reported the Interior Department’s Inspector General found "the Bureau of Land Management's Cadastral Survey program was missing the opportunity to identify and perform surveys on high risk lands where significant potential revenues could be collected by the Department or Indian tribes. Proper survey and management of high risk lands with antiquated surveys has the potential to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from lands with valuable resources.”
Bureau shared information on research and development opportunities for the 2020 Census to exploit technology on a secure (web) exchange process for ad- dress and spatial data, ways to ingest spatial and address data from partners, products and services that may facilitate the exchange of spatial and address data from Census to partners, and the use of imagery and change detection methods. She also said that the current Census policy that Title 13 restrictions prohibited sharing of master address file (MAF) and building structure point data is being reviewed.
David Kennedy, Assistant Administrator of NOAA for the National Ocean Service, provided details on a more than $80 million program for base mapping and charting activities, hydrographic surveys, integrated ocean and coastal mapping, and shoreline mapping. He also said an investigation was being launched in response to a MAPPS com- plaint about a recent bid for professional LiDAR data collection services in California that violated the Brooks Act and was awarded to a university.
On Wednesday, March 16, MAPPS members traveled to Capitol Hill to visit their Congressional delegations. As a result of the MAPPS efforts, ten cosponsors were secured for FEMA flood risk map reform legislation, seven lawmakers committed to cosponsoring the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act, providing a current, accurate, GIS-based inventory of Federal land ownership, nineteen Representatives and Senators pledged to cosponsor the Freedom from Government Competition Act and five members of the House agreed to introduce a bill to reform governance and coordination of Federal geospatial activities, known as the Map It Once, Use It Many Times (MIO-UIMT) Act.
Posted By Nick Palatiello,
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, December 20, 2011
A bipartisan group of House members has introduced H.R. 3634, the "Federal Prison Industries Competition in Contracting Act of 2011".
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) offered the bill on December 12 with cosponsors that include Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Barney Frank (D-MA), and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).
This bill is virtually identical to H.R. 2965, the bill that passed the House in 2006 by a 362-57 vote (Roll no. 443). MAPPS supported that bill. A companion bill was approved by a Senate committee, but was not enacted into law. However, other piecemeal FPI reforms have been put in place by Congress in recent years.
With unemployment continuing at dangerously high levels, 2012 may be the year Congress enacts a bill that has support from Republicans and Democrats, business and labor.
Like its predecessor, H.R. 3634 includes two provisions significant to MAPPS.
First, the bill prohibits agencies from specifying Federal Prison Industries (FPI), or its products, as a source in any Federal agency synopsis/solicitation. There have been incidents where architect-engineer (A/E) contracts have required the A/E firm to specify a FPI product, such as a modular furniture system, in its designs.
Most importantly, the bill prohibits FPI and its inmate workers from having access to a variety of geospatial information, about individual citizens’ property or critical infrastructure location. Specifically, it bans FPI from providing "a service in which an inmate worker has access to personal or financial information about individual private citizens, including information relating to such person’s real property, however described, without giving prior notice to such persons or class of persons to the greatest extent practicable; geographic data regarding the location of surface and subsurface infrastructure providing communications, water and electrical power distribution, pipelines for the distribution of natural gas, bulk petroleum products and other commodities, and other utilities; or data that is classified.” This provision would prohibit FPI from engaging in most, if not all, geospatial activities.
With regard to services, the bill eliminated FPI’s status as a preferred source. A Federal agency can only contract with FPI for services, such as GIS, CAD, scanning, digitizing, if the buying agency’s contracting officers determines FPI’s services meet the agency’s need in a number of criteria, can perform on time, and provides the service at a fair market price. This eliminates enormous advantages FPI has enjoyed in providing services. With regard to products, FPI’s previous mandatory source status is ended in favor of full and open competition.
The bill also prohibits FPI from providing services in the commercial market. Although FPI’s original 1930’s enabling law prohibited prison-made products from commercial market entry, the organization secured a legal opinion during the Clinton Administration that said since Congress mentioned products in the 1930’s, and not services, then sale of prisoner provided services must be permitted, notwithstanding that the United States did not have a service economy in the 1930s. Several state attorneys general have issued similar opinions with regard to state prisons.
Federal Prison Industries, Inc., which operates under the trade name UNICOR, is a self-supporting, wholly-owned government corporation that employs federal prison inmates. A program of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons, FPI offers hundreds of products and services, including a number of data conversion activities.
A number of state prison industry operations have extensive GIS capabilities, including Colorado, Florida, and Texas, to name a few.
A recent MAPPS legislative issues poll found 51 percent of members continue to view prison industry reform legislation as a very important or somewhat important issue.
It has been reported that FPI won a contract from the Corps of Engineers to make signs. The funding came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA, commonly known as the stimulus bill. While the bill was intended to put law-abiding, unemployed Americans back to work, not to support inmates. The expenditure of Federal ARRA funds on prison industries is being investigated by Congress.
Under H.R. 3634, FPI’s Unicor, would be required to submit a detailed analysis of the impact to the private sector before entering into new product markets and would not be able to sell products commercially or internationally; the only customer could be the federal government. It also prohibits agencies from contracting with FPI in which inmates would have access to sensitive or classified information.
"This bill gives the taxpayer the greatest value for their hard-earned money by forcing federal agencies to bid for fair and reasonable prices and for products that best suit their needs. The bill preserves market access for these products or services to the hard-working men and women of our districts. This is simply one more easy, common sense way to preserve jobs and help restore economic security for America," Huizenga said.
"This legislation will protect the jobs of hard-working American taxpayers while providing valuable alternative rehabilitative opportunities to better prepare inmates for a successful return to society. It is a workable, bipartisan solution to the problem," Maloney said.
"It is time to allow for fair competition for U.S. manufacturers," Frank said.
"We should be looking to make government more efficient and cost-effective, and this bill does that. I support this legislation because it will save taxpayer money and open up the contracting process to competition by allowing businesses to bid for these contracts," Sensenbrenner said.
Other examples of the industries FPI competes in include: clothing and textiles, electronics, vehicular components and fleet management, industrial products, office furniture, electronics recycling, and services such as call center and data and document conversion.
The bill has already gathered interest from a broad coalition of business groups and has a bipartisan list of supporters in Congress from all across America. Original co-sponsors include Reps. Donald Manzullo (R-IL), Edward Royce, (R-CA), Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), and John Olver (D-MA).
In the past, studies by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found FPI products and services did not meet agency requirements, were not delivered in a timely manner, and were at times more expensive that the private sector.