Mid-year Legislature Summary

With Congress starting its August recess, it is a good time to review issues introduced in Congress and the Federal government thus far that will affect surveying and mapping professionals. Here are some of the more important ones.

LightSquared/FCC/GPS

One of the biggest and most discussed federal issues this year has been the LightSquared/GPS issue. I discussed this in detail in my June column, but on June 30, LightSquared submitted a final report of the technical working group co-chaired by LightSquared and the U.S. Global Positioning Industry Council (USGPIC) to the FCC.

The technical working-group effort identified significant technical issues related to potential LightSquared operations in the upper portions of the L-Band spectrum, which is most proximate to the band used by GPS. The group tested more than 130 representative GPS devices in seven different receiver categories, in different test environments. The tests demonstrated potentially significant interference between LightSquared operations in the upper portion of the band and various GPS receivers. The tests also identified some interference issues in the lower 10 MHz portion of the band. The overall conclusion of the testing is that transmissions in the upper 10 MHz channel—the channel nearest to the 1559-1610 MHz GPS band—will adversely affect the performance of a significant number of legacy GPS receivers.

LightSquared has submitted its recommendations to address the problems identified by the working group. In particular, LightSquared indicates its willingness to:
  1. “operate at lower power than permitted by its existing FCC authorization;
  2. agree to a ‘standstilll’ in the terrestrial use of its upper 10 MHz frequencies immediately adjacent to the GPS band; and 
  3. commence terrestrial commercial operations only on the lower 10 MHz portion of its spectrum and to coordinate and share the cost of underwriting a workable solution for the small number of legacy precision measurement devices that may be at risk.”
Of course, that “small number of legacy precision measurement devices that may be at risk” is used by professional, 
licensed surveyors around the country.

The link to all portions of the LightSquared/USGPIC FCC report can be found here: http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs/com
ment/view?id=6016826095. Comments were due by July 30, 2011 with reply comments due by August 15, 2011. See the link for instructions on how to file comments.

FEMA Risk MAP Program

FEMA recently met with interested groups to discuss its non-regulatory flood risk products, including its Flood Risk Database, Flood Risk Report, and Flood Risk Map, and its Flood Risk Datasets (Flood Depth & Analysis Grids, Flood Risk Assessments, Changes Since Last FIRM, and Areas of Mitigation Interest).

FEMA officials discussed changes and upgrades being made to the flood maps by showing previous mapping compared to new mapping being done with lidar. The difference between the methods was clear.

FEMA’s goals to update their regulatory products include making the database the source of all other products, making the maps more user friendly, creating more accurately placed flood hazard data on the maps, reducing the costs of creating and maintaining the maps, and creating better suited databases for software and internet use.

FEMA also changed the format for its Flood Insurance Rate Maps. They are now reformatted to “D” size (24x36 inches), with streamlined notes and legend, color that better emphasizes flood zones, and reconfigured Base Flood Elevation (BFE) lines for more accuracy and less cost. (The BFEs are not being removed from Flood Insurance Rate Maps; they will be shown differently once pending changes to the current FIRM specification take effect. Revisions will reduce production costs and improve the accuracy of flood maps.)

FEMA officials also discussed the impact of Map Modernization (Map Mod) mapping on the 1% annual chance floodplain. The overall size of the Special Flood Hazard Area has increased by about 7%, based on FEMA assessment in 2010. In the 798 counties analyzed, the estimated number of people in the SFHA was reduced from 10.2 million prior to Map Mod to 10.0 million post-Map Mod. The estimated number of housing units in the SFHA went from 4.44 million prior to Map Mod down to 4.35 million post-Map Mod.

3% Withholding Tax on Government Contracts

Recently, a final rule by the IRS was posted in the Federal Register that would extend the effective date of Section 511 of the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 to January 1, 2013, thus extending the date by one year.

As you may recall, Section 511 required government entities with budgets of $100 million or more that make payments to any person providing any property or services to deduct and withhold from such payment a tax in an amount equal to 3% of the payment.

The final regulations provide that the withholding and reporting requirements under these regulations apply to payments made after December 31, 2012, subject to an existing contract exception. Thus, under the regulations, payments made under written binding contracts in effect on December 31, 2012, are not subject to section 3402(t) withholding, while payments made after December 31, 2012, under contracts entered into after December 31, 2012, are subject to section 3402(t) withholding unless otherwise excepted.

In addition, if an existing contract is materially modified after December 31, 2012, the contract ceases to be an existing contract, and payments under the contract become subject to section 3402(t) withholding. With respect to payments before January 1, 2013, government entities are not required to apply section 3402(t) withholding and the related reporting and, accordingly, will not be subject to any liability, penalties, or interest for failure to do so.

SBA Size Standards Increased

The U.S. Small Business Administration recently announced in a Federal Register Notice that it is proposing increasing the size standards in several industries, including surveying and mapping. The new proposed size standard for surveying and mapping is $19 million (up from $4.5 million). On the online notice, http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2011/pdf/2011-5876.pdf, the new size standards are listed on Table 7, Page 14335.

Davis-Bacon Repeal Legislation

The Davis-Bacon Act requires that the locally prevailing wage rate be paid to various classes of laborers and mechanics working under federally financed or federally assisted contracts for construction, alteration, and repair of public buildings or public works. There are currently two bills in Congress that would repeal this act, one from Iowa and one from Florida.

During August, members of Congress will be in their home district offices. If you are concerned about these issues, August may be a good time to visit your Representative and Senator to discuss these issues with him or her.


About the Author

  • Laurence Socci
    Laurence Socci
    Laurence Socci is the chief executive manager and senior lobbyist of The CLA Group, LLC, a government consulting, lobbying, and advocacy firm in Washington, D.C., specializing in representing businesses and associations. He is also the government affairs consultant for the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM).

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