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February 24, 2024

Vermilion County – More on the No-Bid GIS Contracts –

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On December 14, 2013


Last month I requested all records relating to the subject of GIS in an effort to determine if anyone besides us had complained of the no-bid so-called professional services contract for GIS service for Vermilion County.

What I received was an incomplete response, leaving out one particular letter. When I repeated my request and refered to this letter, I finally received it with the excuse that they thought is pertained to no-bid contracting and not to GIS services. When reading this letter for the first time, it is evident the subject matter was both no-bid contracting and GIS services and should have been provided in the initial request.

They have an interesting point, and I am inclined to renew my call for the Vermilion County Board to declare the previous contract void and put the GIS out for bid.

Please read this document in its entirity, and determine for yourself if you think the label of professional services can be indescriminately place on specific service just because you feel like it is and ignore all other evidence that it is not.

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  • Incredulous
    Posted at 12:25h, 15 December

    So the issue is that this professional ‘members only’ organization doesn’t feel that a Geographic Information System consulting company, that isn’t a paying member, is equivalent to an Engineering/Surveying firm?

    (50 ILCS 510/3) (from Ch. 85, par. 6403) Sec. 3. Definitions.
    (Source: P.A. 91-91, eff. 1-1-00.)

    From the above i take it that the Act “definitions” were last reviewed and amended prior to January 2000. GIS wasn’t really mainstream technology till the last decade. If the Act were to be reviewed, depending on clout of the IPLSA lobbyists, i can see a valid case that GIS Consulting would be included in the ‘Firm’ list. The wording is already there based on the attached excerpt above…

    As new technology is developed laws must be reviewed to be sure it’s fair in BOTH directions. The fact that a NFP organization is using this law to beat down a county government’s decision to utilize new technology is shameful.

    Is it getting the job done? Is it more efficient? Is it saving them money?

    Get the legal crap updated and let’s revisit the whole issue.

    • jmkraft
      Posted at 20:29h, 17 December

      A GIS consulting company is most certainly NOT equivalent to an Engineering/Surveying Firm.
      Nobody is “beating down” a county government for utilizing a new technology. You must have missed the KEY, which is GIS should have been put out for bid.
      GIS does not meet the definition of a professional service according to law.
      1.). GIS mapping is not a licensed profession recognized by the State of Illinois. There is no statute which regulates GIS mapping functions. (Surveyors and Engineers are heavily regulated with detailed minimum standards they must follow. This licensure was put in place to protect the welfare of the public.)
      2.). There is no licensure requirements to use GIS. This means there is no minimum qualification to do the work. There is no minimum education requirement to do GIS work. (Surveyors and Engineers must have 4 year degrees.)
      3.). There is no minimum training required to provide GIS services. (Surveyors and Engineers must pass an exam and then work 4 years under the direction of a licensed person. Once those 4 years are up, the licensed person must sign off that they feel it is OK for the trainee to take the licensing exam. The candidate must then pass ANOTHER exam before they can be issued a license.)
      4.). There is no continuing education requirement for GIS providers. (Surveyors and Engineers are required to meet strict continuing education requirements. EVERY TWO YEARS their licenses EXPIRE. A surveyor and engineer is regularly attending conferences and seminars to stay current with changing technology. Some of these classes include mandatory state-specific topics and also mandatory ethics topics.)
      5.) GIS professionals do not have a code of ethics, self regulation, public complaint process, etc. If you have a problem with a surveyor or engineer, you can file a compliant with the Illinois licensing board for that particular profession through the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The licensing board meets regularly and reviews complaints and the submitted evidence. These licensing boards consist of peers……other licensed individuals and usually at least one non-licensed public member. The licensing board has powers to recommend reprimand and even recommend that the IDFPR strip away your license through investigation, interviews, hearings, etc. (If you have a problem with a GIS provider, there is no code of ethics, no regulatory statute, no recourse to hold them accountable, and no license which can be taken from them in order to protect the public.)
      6.) Surveyors and engineers are selected for their expertise and local knowledge. In Illinois, it is called the “QBS process.”. QBS stands for “Qualification Based Services.”. Professional design firms (licensed engineering and land surveying companies) provide a list of qualifications which prove competency in certain areas. With this list, public bodies can contact those firms and negotiate a contract.
      7.) In conclusion, GIS services do not carry the weight of “protecting the welfare of the public” as engineers and surveyors are legally required to do. There is no minimum standard and no minimum qualification for a person to do GIS stuff.

  • GeoThum
    Posted at 11:39h, 16 December

    Shady No-Bid 5-Year GIS Contract

  • Incredulous
    Posted at 09:12h, 21 December

    Nope, they’re not. Based on an out dated definition of the services and interpretations of those rules lobbied for by an organization that has ‘always done it this way’.

    So who’s Wheaties got pissed in because they didn’t get the chance to ‘low ball’ the contract? If there was a standing contract that was being satisfactorily executed why would the county want to go through the expense of retooling everything with a new ‘low bid’ vendor?

    Retooling? you might ask. Yes that’s how all this technology crapola works. A new, cut rate, vendor walks into the infrastructure created by the original vendor and says ‘this is all sub-par, we need to gut it all and make it ‘right”. Then the county gets stuck with a bill for new hardware, new software and re-training personnel. That expense would likely NOT be in the bid for the job and would generate a huge budget overrun for that department. This is fairly common for technology related contracts, what one company deems acceptable another will find a reason to dismantle.

    Addressing each of your points:

    1.). Licensure is a gimmick created by professions to ‘control’ their drones. Ask anyone that holds a ‘license’ for working with Microsoft software how well it’s worked for them. Microsoft has lobbied colleges to make them insist that having their certifications will guarantee additional income while charging a fee for students to take the tests. These certs have to be renewed regularly too because software never stands still and neither does the financial machine of a mega corporation.

    2.). There is a dramatic difference between skills required to use GIS software and skills required to work in the field surveying and engineering. But, again i ask, where does the data for the GIS software come from?

    3.). Hey look, another gimmick to keep the ‘newbies’ in line. The whole concept of journeyman and paying your dues is a very well established system. This creates the ‘good ole boys’ network because you only really have to be ‘good’ while your ‘master’ is watching. After you’re in just pay your dues like a good little sheeple and live life.

    4.). Really? So staying up to date on software that is updated several times each year is no continuing educational requirement? So learning how to convert a stand alone GIS project into a web accessible product with mobile capability and live updating through GPS and notes from the field don’t require any kind of continuing education. Let’s not forget the need to understand how geography, demographics, economics and natural disasters alter the scope of everything on a daily basis. Then there’s infrastructure, servers, workstations and software licensing…

    5.) Wow, back to the gimmicks. I can start a club, scribble up some papers with a mission statement and ‘code of ethics’ but that means NOTHING. Having a cool sticker to slap on my bumper with an earnest and ethical slogan to prove just how Ethical and Honest i am is idiotic. Ethics are in your actions and your daily dealings with people not in some stupid ‘contract with your club’.

    6.) But GIS companies don’t have to be ‘experts’ or submit examples of previous projects to prove how competent they are at their job? Any employer worth the time to bid for will want proof of competency. Wouldn’t it make sense that if a GIS firm developed a deliverable that has been the basis for over 5 years worth of products sold to the public through the county that they could argue expertise and familiarity?

    7.) Wow, weight of “protecting the welfare of the public”, propaganda and lies. How’s Bob Colvin’s Engineering firm doing with all that morality and weight? Everyone, private citizen to mega corporation, have the moral obligation to ‘do no harm’ but many are simply incapable of understanding what morals are or caring any further than getting the job. Licensure is not accepting another level of judgement from on high, it’s a piece of paper that says ‘I paid more to practice my profession because that’s the way we’ve always done it’.

    If a GIS firm is excluded from being included in the definition of a firm simply because they don’t have a certified license proving their honor and ethical purity in how they do their job then how does anything ever get done?

    You gotta ask yourself, who was behind the structure of the original draft of this Act? Why was it even required in the first place? Was it designed to pigeon hole the professional qualifications so a specific group could benefit?

    In any case, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you Watchdogs, i look forward to another interesting year of light in dark places.

    • jmkraft
      Posted at 11:11h, 21 December

      I do not wholy disagree with you, but I think you have the idea that an engineer or surveying firm was complaining because they did not get to bid. The whole basis of the complaint is that the action taken was not in compliance with established laws and procedures. If the laws are outdated they (the county) need to work to get them updated. It is not that difficult and we have accomplished the very same things on other state statutes. It took a year or two, but it was accomplished. One dealt with the ETSB statute, and it was changed – the other dealt with counties being able to charge “administration fees” to its own departments, and that was stopped in its tracks after we simply pointed out it would violate the state constitution.
      The procurement process was designed to prevent favoritism and cronyism in public contracts. The “professional services” statute was designed to protect the public from sub-par companies lowballing certain contracts in which they could not possibly deliver the quality required.
      With the GIS contract, there are other GIS service companies out there that could have bid if it went out for bid. What FIDLAR does, and this is my opinion, is gain a foothold in a public body and then use proprietary software to store and access its – the public’s – data, creating the perceived need upon the public body to continue with the same company since all the previous data can only be accessed using FIDLAR’s proprietary software.
      So now we have a bigger question on the table; should a public body even be allowed to contract with companies using proprietary software, thereby potentially being held “hostage” to its services forever. The MS, Apple, etc arguements don’t work here because there are always programs that can read and write from/to those file formats. I don’t know enough about the GIS format FIDLAR is using to know if other software out there can read and write into its format or not.