Congress Fails to Resolve Geospatial Info-sharing Issues

3 05 2012

Below is an article by Anthony Kimery, HSToday.US, related to the problems involved in coordinating geo-spatial information from all levels of government as well as the private sector.  In the article, published today (May 3, 2012), Kimery summarizes a recent report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).  No easy solutions are noted; and this is particularly significant because of the importance that such data provides emergency managers and first responders during disasters.

Congress has recognized the challenge of coordinating and sharing geospatial data from the local, county, and state level with the national level, and vice versa, but “challenges to coordinating how geospatial data are acquired and used — collecting duplicative data sets, for example — at the local, state and federal levels, in collaboration with the private sector, are not yet resolved,” concluded a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.

Geospatial data can be vitally important to first responders and emergency managers, for example, during times of crisis – including a catastrophic terrorist attack or major natural disaster.

The report, Issues and Challenges for Federal Geospatial Information, written by Peter Folger, a CRS specialist in energy and natural resources policy, stated that, “The cost to the federal government of gathering and coordinating geospatial information has … been an ongoing concern. As much as 80 percent of government information has a geospatial component, according to various sources,” and “the federal government’s role has changed from being a primary provider of authoritative geospatial information to coordinating and managing geospatial data and facilitating partnerships.”

While “Congress explored issues of cost, duplication of effort and coordination of geospatial information in hearings” during the 108th Congress, Folger noted that lawmakers still face considerable challenges with regard to coordinating how geospatial data are acquired and used by local, state and federal entities in collaboration with the private sector.

The report stated that “two bills introduced in the 112th  Congress, HR 1620 and HR 4322, would address aspects of duplication and coordination of geospatial information.”

Folger wrote, “The federal government has recognized the need to organize and coordinate the collection and management of geospatial data since at least 1990, when the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) revised Circular A-16 to establish the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and to promote the coordinated use, sharing and dissemination of geospatial data nationwide. OMB Circular A-16 also called for development of a national digital spatial information resource to enable the sharing and transfer of spatial data between users and producers, linked by criteria and standards.”

The report elaborated that 1994 Executive Order 12906 strengthened and enhanced Circular A-16 and specified that FGDC shall coordinate development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). On Nov. 10, 2010, OMB issued supplemental guidance to Circular A-16 that labeled geospatial data as a “capital asset,” and referred to its acquisition and management in terms analogous to financial assets to be managed as a National Geospatial Data Asset Portfolio.

“It will likely take some time and several budget cycles,” the report said, “to track whether agencies are adhering to the ‘portfolio-centric model’ of geospatial data management outlined in the supplemental guidance.”

Folger concluded that “Congress may consider how a national GIS or geospatial infrastructure would be conceived, perhaps drawing on proposals for these national efforts” described in his report, “and how they would be similar to or differ from current efforts. Congress may also examine its oversight role in the implementation of OMB Circular A-16, particularly in how federal agencies are coordinating their programs that have geospatial components. In 2004, GAO acknowledged that the federal government, through the FGDC and Geospatial One-Stop project, had taken actions to coordinate the government’s geospatial investments, but that those efforts had not been fully successful in eliminating redundancies among agencies. As a result, federal agencies were acquiring and maintaining potentially duplicative data sets and systems.”

“Since then,” Folger continued, “it is not clear whether federal agencies are successfully coordinating among themselves and measurably eliminating unnecessary duplication of effort.”

“Were Congress to take a more active oversight role overseeing the federal geospatial enterprise,” Folger noted, “it could evaluate whether specific recommendations from nonfederal stakeholders have been addressed. For example, the National Geospatial Advisory Committee recommended that OMB and FGDC strengthen their enforcement of Circular A-16 and Executive Order 12906.”

“However,” the report found, “enforcement alone may not be sufficient to meet the current challenges of management, coordination and data sharing. The issuance of supplemental guidance to Circular A-16 by OMB in November 2010 may instigate new activity among and between agencies, which could spill over into better coordination with the state and local governments and the private sector. It will likely take some time, and several budget cycles, to track whether agencies are adhering to the ‘portfolio-centric model’ of geospatial data management outlined in the supplemental guidance. It may also take time to evaluate whether the ‘portfolio-centric model’ is the best available model for managing the federal geospatial assets.”

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