Two Reports on GIS and Geospatial Information Released to Congress

by Matt Ball on June 6, 2011

On May 18, two reports regarding GIS and geosptial information were released from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Collectively they summarize geospatial information, GIS, and some of the challenges for the federal role in authoritative data access and collection for non-classified data. Each were written by Peter Folger, specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy with CRS. I hadn’t seen details on these reports elsewhere, although they’re a few weeks old, so I thought I’d post a summary with links here.

Geospatial Information and Geographic Information Systems (GIS): An Overview for Congress (PDF) discusses the growing importance and many uses of geospatial data and GIS, along with the advent of “crowd-sourcing” GIS data for emergency response scenarios. Here’s an excerpt from the summary:

“Examples of how GIS and geospatial data are used within and outside the federal government are growing rapidly. In this report, a few examples are provided that describe the real-time or near real-time data analysis in the case of a California wildfire; policy analysis in support of a Base Realignment and Closure decision in Virginia Beach; and analysis of foreclosure patterns using census and other data for the New York City area. An additional example is provided demonstrating the burgeoning interaction of GIS and social media. In this case, Japanese citizens collected and provided census records, maps, and other information—a variant of “crowd- sourcing”—to a GIS team. The team assembled the information into data layers supporting an interactive map to assist humanitarian organizations working in areas of Japan damaged by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.”

“Issues and Challenges for Federal Geospatial Information” (PDF) tackles the evolving role of the federal government in collecting and sharing authoritative geospatial data, and the ongoing issues of coordination, acquisition and cooperation among the various levels of government. Here’s an excerpt from the summary:

“Congress has recognized the challenge of coordinating and sharing geospatial data from the local, county, and state level to the national level, and vice versa. The cost to the federal government of gathering and coordinating geospatial information has also been an ongoing concern. As much as 80% of government information has a geospatial component, according to various sources. 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. Congress explored issues of cost, duplication of effort, and coordination of geospatial information in hearings during the 108th Congress. However, 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.”

Among the important topics addressed in the “Issues and Challenges” paper is the idea of a ‘national GIS’ or a new version of National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). The momentum in early 2009 for a national consolidated spatial data and analysis capability, hasn’t moved forward. It’s exciting to read the words that such a system could act as a public utility, which could for a foundation for a new generation of industries and technologies. Here’s hoping this report is read by many and that there is further activity to prompt a nationally-coordinated effort.

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