Q&A with NSPS Legislative Affairs consultant John Palatiello
FieldNotes: To anyone involved with the National Society of Professional Surveyors [NSPS] in the past few decades, your name rings a bell. How so?
John Palatiello: I had the honor of being the first ACSM Government Affairs director, beginning in 1982. I was hired off Capitol Hill to start the ACSM-ASPRS Joint Government Affairs Program. I later was given additional responsibilities, particularly in public relations, and was the ACSM assistant executive director for Public Affairs. My tenure on the ACSM staff was from 1982 to 1987. Since that time, I have owned and operated a public affairs consulting firm, John M. Palatiello & Associates, Inc., where I have been executive director of MAPPS, the association of private sector geospatial firms; administrator of COFPAES, the Council on Federal Procurement of Architecture-Engineering Services, of which ACSM and now NSPS is a member; and have advised and been a consultant to firms and organizations in the surveying and mapping community.
FN: Your company recently signed an agreement to serve as the legislative eyes and ears of the NSPS. What will be your overall objective on their behalf?
Palatiello: Our objective is not to be the eyes and ears of NSPS and the surveying profession, but a voice. We want to make certain surveyors are aware of policies, legislation, and federal government activities that affect the profession, but we also want to provide surveyors with a voice, impact, and influence on those policies, legislation, and activities. We want to support the profession and enhance the professional image of surveyors.
FN: It is no secret that surveyors in the U.S. feel they have not been as effective in having their voice heard in Washington as have other professions such as engineers and architects? What do we need to do differently?
Palatiello: Alan Simpson, the former U.S. senator from Wyoming, once said it best, “Take part or get taken apart.” Surveyors need and deserve a seat at the table when government decisions are being made. Wasn’t it Woody Allen who said, “90% of life is just showing up”? So, first and foremost, surveyors have to show up, be in the room, be at the table—take part. Individual surveyors need to get personally involved by being a member of NSPS, contributing to the PAC, and communicating with their elected representatives, either at home or by coming to Washington when necessary. The surveying profession also needs to understand how government works, particularly the Congress, and that knowledge and access is what my firm will help provide to NSPS.
FN: We recognize that this is a long-term project, not something that can change overnight. But in what areas do you predict we can have a positive impact?
Palatiello: I have always believed that little things can have a big impact. Our goal should not be some big, comprehensive surveying legislation that solves every challenge facing the profession, but rather amendments and provisions to other bills that recognize the importance of surveying, provide business opportunities for surveyors, serve and protect the public health, welfare and safety, including property rights, and enhance the surveyor’s public image. That could be adding an “as-built” survey provision to a pipeline safety bill, or requiring a survey on a railroad abandonment, or making certain that surveying is defined as a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics field for the purposes of education and workforce development programs.
FN: In your company’s work on behalf of MAPPS, you always stress the “private sector” component of MAPPS members. How will this be similar or different in your work for NSPS?
Palatiello: First of all, much of what we have done in MAPPS has been to promote “surveying and mapping” or the “geospatial profession,” which includes surveyors, photogrammetrists, GIS developers, and a variety of other disciplines that fall under those umbrellas. So, a lot of our work has benefited the community as a whole, not just those in private practice. For example, we were able to get legislation enacted that established a Geospatial Management Office in the Department of Homeland Security. That has paid dividends to the entire community, regardless of professional discipline or sector of employment. Moreover, more than 90% of NSPS members are in private practice, so there a lot of kindred interests between the two organizations. Finally, over the years, I’ve worked on things like Labor Department classifications of surveyors and Office of Personnel Management standards for surveyors in the federal government. These have benefitted surveyors in general and surveyors in government in particular. I also believe “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and that is what we’ve tried to do for the entire surveying, mapping, and geospatial community.
FN: Since you are clearly not a newcomer to the challenges facing the surveying profession, what areas do you feel NSPS can have the greatest impact on behalf of the profession?
Palatiello: NSPS can have a tremendous impact by working in the legislative process to advocate for the importance of surveying in various real property, infrastructure, and environmental programs. By making certain that decision-makers have current and accurate survey data when making policy or conducting government transactions and that citizens have surveys that protect their property rights, NSPS can serve the public, create business opportunities for surveyors, and enhance the image of surveyors as an essential part of the nation’s economy. This will also make a career in surveying even more attractive to the next generation.
FN: How will you determine what areas of concern are of most importance to surveyors?
Palatiello: My firm’s first recommendation to NSPS upon being retained as its government affairs consultant was to conduct a market opinion poll to find out what is on surveyors’ minds and gauge what is most important to them. I hope surveyors will also avail themselves of the ability and opportunity to communicate with the NSPS leadership on their personal priorities, through means in addition to the poll. NSPS members should bring issues affecting their business or the profession to the attention of the NSPS Government Affairs Committee. Listening to members and prospective members is a big part of the success of the NSPS 100% joint membership program. I also want to work with NSPS on strategic planning so the organization’s programs and activities are designed and implemented to be responsive to the membership and contribute to meeting strategic goals. So, listening and then acting are the keys to success in any membership organization. I’m excited about being part of that.