Warner, Hatch introduce bipartisan Geospatial Data Act

warnerU.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have introduced the bipartisan Geospatial Data Reform Act to improve oversight and reduce duplication in the management of geospatial data.

The federal government is the largest buyer of geospatial data, but according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), federal agencies do not consistently track or report geospatial investments, which results in duplicative efforts and expense by various entities, including federal, state and local governments as well as private companies.

“Geospatial data has endless possibilities for transforming both the private and public sectors — from helping local governments develop emergency preparedness plans to fueling the creation of apps that let you find parking spots, restaurants, and even homes for sale based on where you’re standing. The federal government is the largest purchaser of geospatial data but some very basic questions about how and where agencies are already investing in this data can’t be answered,” Sen. Warner said. “Our bill would bring transparency and accountability to the collection of this data and ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being wasted on duplicative efforts.”

“The federal government wastes vast amounts of taxpayer dollars by not properly managing and coordinating our federal investments in geospatial data. This commonsense legislation will improve coordination, reduce duplication, and promote data transparency,” Sen. Hatch said.

Geospatial data is information that identifies the geographic location and characters of natural or constructed features and boundaries, such as the boundaries of a national forest, congressional districts, roads or elevation data used to create a floodplain map.

Federal agencies and state governments use a variety of geospatial datasets to support their missions. For example, after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency used geospatial data to identify 44,000 households that were damaged and inaccessible and reported that, as a result, it was able to provide expedited assistance to area residents. As much as 80 percent of government information has a geospatial component.

Shelby D. Johnson, President of the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) said, “People believe that the United States of America has a robust system of maps and digital data. We don’t, but we should. The federal government was never given the tools to do the job right. This Act is a good step toward solving the problems, and our members strongly support it. We also applaud Senator Hatch and Senator Warner for their foresight in dealing with this problem.”

Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties, said, “GIS data is an important tool for counties when it comes to making land use decisions, maintaining infrastructure, and responding to emergencies. We support this bill because counties 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.”

The advent of new technology – such as Global Positioning Systems – along with increasingly powerful computers and software, have enabled some significant advances to be made in the field of geospatial data, but the federal government’s role as a provider, consumer and facilitator of geospatial data has not kept up with those advances. According to a GAO report requested by Senators Warner, Hatch, Jim Risch (R-ID) and Tom Carper (D-DE) that was released yesterday, “Federal agencies and states reported spending significant funds on geospatial data and supporting systems, but the total amount spent is understated because not all costs are tracked. Identifying the cost of geospatial data has been an ongoing problem for the federal government.”

The Geospatial Data Reform Act would require federal agencies to report, as part of their annual budget submission to the President, how much they spend on geospatial data and what geospatial information they collect. It would also designate the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as the chair of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), an interagency committee established by OMB in 1990 to organize and coordinate the collection and management of geospatial data, and require the FGDC to report every two years on each agency’s performance when it comes to geospatial data management.

Additionally, the bill will provide a clear definition for geospatial data and metadata, and will improve government transparency and availability to public information.

The legislation’s full text is available here.


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