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.”
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.