Proposal reveals blurry industry lines

When John Palatiello examined an early draft statement of work for the upcoming geospatial SmartBuy procurement vehicle, he noticed that mapping and surveying were included in a section that listed support services that the contract might cover.

“Software and services are both in the document,” said Palatiello, executive director of the Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors, an industry group. “There are a lot of questions about that.”

Palatiello said his members are concerned about losing their existing federal contracts for mapping and surveying if SmartBuy becomes the acquisition vehicle of choice.

“Millions of dollars of work could be taken from our members under this BPA,” he said.

His organization and several others protested to the General Services Administration last month. They said mapping and surveying are inherently services to be contracted under rules that govern federal selection of architects and engineers. GSA officials modified the SmartBuy language and removed references to mapping and surveying from several sections in the updated statement of work.
However, the questions are much broader than that document.

As the geospatial industry has changed in recent years, the line between imagery products and services has become blurred. Decades ago, mappers and surveyors were the chief source of geographic imagery; today some geospatial imagery is supplied in quantity by vendors accessing commercial satellites, including Google Earth, Microsoft Virtual Earth, GeoEye and DigitalGlobe.

“There is a lot of debate in our community on whether ortho-corrected imagery is a service or a product,” said Kass Green, vice president of the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. Ortho-corrected photo imagery is geometrically corrected so that everything is on a uniform scale, like a map.

“This is not about acquiring professional services. It is about acquiring commercial products,” said Matthew Leopard, chairman of the Geospatial Common Services Work Group that is working with GSA and the Office of Management and Budget on the SmartBuy BPA.

Leopard said there is no intention of interfering with mapping and surveying services that federal agencies are purchasing, and SmartBuy will not affect existing contracts. The goal is to offer a full array of software products and tools, for analysis and visualization, along with appropriate support to ensure those products are accessible to federal employees.

Ultimately, everyone involved will benefit, including mappers and surveyors, because it’s likely geospatial services will become more widely used in the government and revenues will grow, Leopard said.
“The mapping community will have a greater opportunity because we will be expanding the use of geospatial tools to make them mainstream,” Leopard said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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