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Landslide Bill Clears Congress; Labor Rescinds AAM 212

The passage of the National Landslide Preparedness Act by the U.S. Senate last week drew enthusiastic support from the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). The landslide bill passed by unanimous consent following earlier approval by the House of Representatives and clears the bill for signature into law by President Trump.

Also last week the Labor Department announced that it has rescinded an Obama-era guidance AAM 212 issued in 2013 that defined members of survey crews as “laborers and mechanics” under the Davis-Bacon Act. That mandated the “prevailing wage” on a broader range of construction stakeout surveys and federally-funded construction projects.

The landslide bill establishes a National Landslide Hazards Reduction Program at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to better identify and understand landslide risks, protect communities, save lives and property, and improve emergency preparedness. The bill codifies the USGS 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) to update and coordinate the collection of elevation data across the country using enhanced, high-resolution surveys, primarily through lidar.

Enhanced elevation data helps communities plan for and respond to natural hazards and provides critical data to inform decision-making for numerous applications, including public safety, national security, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture, and natural resource management.

Additionally, the bill authorizes a USGS program to collect data on subsidence, a phenomenon of the sudden sinking or gradual downward settling of the ground’s surface.

One of the bill’s sponsors in the Senate, Maria Cantwell (D-WA), knows the devastation landslide can have. In 2014 a mudslide in Oso killed 43 people and destroyed 49 homes and structures.

“Six years after the Oso landslide, everyone in the State of Washington remembers the devastating impacts landslides can have,” Cantwell said. “This bill would dramatically increase our use of lidar data needed to map, identify, and track landslide risk areas. Employing our best science and mapping technologies will help communities across our state save lives, safeguard property, and improve our emergency planning and response.”

AAM 212: The Trump Administration on December 14 released a new document, AAM 235, saying: “AAM 212 is rescinded effective immediately.”

AAM 212 was issued by the Obama Administration in 2013. It reversed more than 50 years of accepted policy, dating back to the administration of President John F. Kennedy, that the prevailing wage mandate of the Davis-Bacon Act only applied to members of survey crews as “laborers and mechanics” to the extent they perform activities on a Federally-funded construction project site “such as clearing brush and sharpening stakes.”

Since the issuance of AAM 212, NSPS has been on a nearly seven-year campaign to seek rescission of the policy. It included testimony before Congress, meetings with individual Congressmen and Senators, letters by design and construction trade associations and professional societies and taxpayer groups, earning the assistance of the Small Business Administration (SBA), and longstanding negotiations with the Department of Labor and the Wage and Hour Division.

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