US mulls new Act to improve use of geospatial data

US mulls new Act to improve use of geospatial data


Geospatial infrastructure and an enabling policy framework are fundamental to determine the geospatial readiness of any country. Though the US lead the geospatial readiness index there is always a room for improvement!

In the 115th Congress as S.1253, the bipartisan Geospatial Data Act (GDA) has been reintroduced by the US senators with an aim to improve coordination, reduce duplication, and increase data transparency in the acquisition of geospatial data.

The bill assigns responsibility, provides authority and ensures oversight of Federal activities by Congress. The improvements are supposed to ensure that the US is able to build a robust National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). The bill also establishes a clear definition of geospatial data and metadata will require an accounting of the costs associated with the acquisition or creation of geospatial data, and will improve government transparency and availability to public information.

“The uses and applications for the geospatial technology are immense and constantly growing,” Senator Hatch said. “The process in which the federal government collects geospatial data currently wastes vast amounts of taxpayer dollars and fails to provide the most accurate information. The GDA will provide the tools to create a more robust and modern system of maps and digital data with a budget that avoids redundant expenditures. We need to optimize the method in which we collect geospatial data to advance the technology for states, counties, and citizens around the nation.”

“From transportation to natural resources, to homeland security, map-based digital information has quietly become mission critical to how work gets done and to future economic growth. We need an efficiency and accountability framework to build, sustain, and share geographic data assets for the entire nation. The GDA delivers just that,” said Bert Granberg, President of the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC).

With reference to a crucial GAO review of FGDC and NSDI, there are still substantial and significant unmet needs and much of these unmet need stem from a failure to harness and coordinate existing efforts. This is despite robust efforts around the country to create and sustain geospatial data. The finding is further supported by the 2015 NSDI Report Card produced by a panel of national experts for the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO). The expert panel assigned an overall grade of C to the status of framework data and an overall grade of ‘C-‘ for the infrastructure required supporting the data.

The Geospatial Data Act can set the table for performance and accountability. A key component of the NSDI is the concept of the framework data layers which are:

  • Cadastral — Information that supports and documents land ownership.
  • Elevation — The height and surface of the land and depth of water bodies.
  • Governmental Units — The boundaries and names of government jurisdictional and management areas at all levels of government.
  • Hydrography — Streams, water bodies, watersheds, inundation areas, and shorelines.
  • Orthoimagery — Precision located aircraft and satellite aerial photography and imagery.
  • Transportation — The path of roadways and rail lines, and the location of supporting features such as train stations and bus stops

At a high level, the Geospatial Data Act will make the following improvements that will impact the framework data layers and other resources that constitute the NSDI:

  • Codify the existing executive orders and other guidance documents that direct work by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) toward the NSDI.
  • Provide FGDC with the authority to make other agencies follow existing common sense rules
  • Provide Congressional oversight over geospatial activities of FGDC members and other agencies.
  • Require reporting that will allow Congress to track progress on the NSDI and ensure funding is spent wisely.
  • Provide a great deal more clout to input developed by the multi-sector membership of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) and require the FGDC to address NGAC’s concerns — not just dictate what NGAC should work on.
  • Require Federal agencies to coordinate and work in partnership with other Federal agencies, agencies of the state, tribal and local governments, institutions of higher education, and the private sector to efficiently and cost-effectively collect, integrate, maintain, disseminate and preserve geospatial data.

GIS data is an important tool for countries when it comes to making land use decisions, maintaining infrastructure, and responding to emergencies. We support this bill because countries need accurate, modern mapping data to perform key duties and deliver services to their residents. We commend Senators Hatch and Warner for introducing this legislation and urge their colleagues to join them in supporting it,” said Matthew Chase, Executive Director of the National Association of Counties.

The bill is also supported by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, the National Association of Counties, the National States Geographic Information Council, and MAAPS – An Association of Photogrammetry, Mapping, and Geospatial Firms.