Home > Public Domain Data > Review of US Federal GIS Activities from Government Accountability Office

Review of US Federal GIS Activities from Government Accountability Office

The Government Accountability Office has updated its review of federal GIS activities.  The study was conducted because “The federal government collects, maintains, and uses geospatial information–information linked to specific geographic locations–to support many functions, including national security and disaster response. In 2012, the Department of the Interior estimated that the federal government was investing billions of dollars on geospatial data annually, and that duplication was common.”

GAO Report on Reducing Duplication and Prioritizing Coordination

GAO Report on Reducing Duplication and Prioritizing Coordination

The report said that, “The President and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)  established policies and procedures for coordinating investments in geospatial data. However, in November 2012, GAO reported that governmentwide committees and federal departments and agencies had not effectively implemented them. The committee that was established to promote the coordination of geospatial data nationwide–the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC)–had developed and endorsed key standards and had established a clearinghouse of metadata. GAO found that the clearinghouse was not being used by agencies to identify planned geospatial investments to promote coordination and reduce duplication. In addition, the committee had not yet fully planned for or implemented an approach to manage geospatial data as related groups of investments to allow agencies to more effectively plan geospatial data collection efforts and minimize duplicative investments, and its strategic plan was missing key elements.”

“Other shortfalls have impaired progress in coordinating geospatial data. Specifically, none of the three federal departments in GAO’s review had fully implemented important activities such as preparing and implementing a strategy for advancing geospatial activities within their respective departments. Moreover, the agencies in GAO’s review responsible for governmentwide management of specific geospatial data had implemented some but not all key activities for coordinating the national coverage of specific geospatial data.”

“GAO is making no new recommendations in this statement. In November 2012, GAO recommended that to improve coordination and reduce duplication, FGDC develop a national strategy for coordinating geospatial investments; federal agencies follow federal guidance for managing geospatial investments; and OMB develop a mechanism to identify and report on geospatial investments. Since that time, FGDC and several agencies have taken some steps to implement the recommendations. However, additional actions are still needed.”

Why are we not surprised?  To be fair, coordinating any activity among federal agencies, particularly one as pervasive and cross-cutting as geospatial data collection and use, is an enormous task.  Furthermore, coordination cannot be established and then just placed on “auto pilot”, but needs to be continually improved and adjusted with changing needs, stakeholders, priorities, and decision makers.  On the other hand, the goal of coordination of federal geospatial activities has been a goal for 20 years now, since the signing of the NSDI back in 1994.  We discuss the progress made and the challenges that are still outstanding at length in our book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data.  It is disheartening to read that so much remains to be done but encouraging to see at least some progress and reports like this one to keep coordination moving forward.

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  1. Ben
    February 21, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Nice recap Joe, thank you! My theory is that mapping is just a highly visible symptom of a greater illness, which is the duplication of Government functions. Many other duplications outside of “spatial” exist as well. President Obama alluded to duplication of effort in his SOTU a few years ago when he talked about 3 agencies being responsible for managing a single salmon in the Northwest. You have got to believe that there is duplication of data collection and analysis with salmon data in these agencies. Should a National Salmon Data Infrastructure be created? Would it help?

    The answer is to clarify and consolidate duplicative functions between agencies. Does every agency under DOI need their own realty and survey functions to manage land? Is it reasonable to expect a GS9 Realty Specialist at BOR to diligently share their information with a peer GS9 Realty Specialist at the BLM when they’re using separate systems to manage transactions? Or would we be better off with one vertically integrated agency that manages all Rights and Interests on Federal lands? Why do we still break the management responsibilities of Federal land down by which ever Presidential Proclamation, Congressional Order, etc. originated the segregation? It’s an interesting piece of historical information, but should it really matter? All that matters is what can and cannot be done by the Public or Government on a single piece of Federal land or mineral estate.

    Consolidation would be challenging and highly political work. However, I suspect that we’ll keep coming up with the same results until these type of questions are addressed…excluding the National Salmon Data Infrastructure question!

  1. February 17, 2014 at 6:22 pm

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