House Committee Hearing Finds Federal Government Lacks Geospatial Coordination

Transparency, coordination and accountability for Federal geospatial data and land ownership are lacking, according Congressional testimony before the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources of the House Committee on Natural Resources on December 5, 2013.

The hearing focused on H.R. 1604, the Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act and H.R. 916, the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform or FLAIR Act. The proposed legislation is meant to streamline Federal spatial data and utilize modern geospatial products and services to provide accountability and savings to taxpayers.

Revealed during testimony was the fact that the Federal government does not have a complete picture of how much money is being spent on geospatial investments across the federal government because, as noted, what was being reported may not have captured all geospatial spending, and the data had not been reliable, said David Powner, Director, Information Technology Management Issues, Government Accountability Office (GAO). Moreover, GAO noted that collecting such information is not a priority for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

In addition, the Bureau of Land Management reported that it tracks only its own lands, and neither it nor the Department of the Interior has an inventory of the Departments lands or the governments entire real property portfolio.

The statements made at the hearing and the GAO testimony, OMB and Agencies Can Reduce Duplication by Making Coordination a Priority, confirmed points MAPPS has made for many years. The Federal government does not have a current, accurate inventory of the land it owns and cannot account for the amount of money being spent on geospatial activities. Within various agencies, including the Department of the Interior generally and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in particular, there are numerous, stovepipe, single purpose, non-interoperable land inventories that result in waste, duplication, inefficiency and above all, poor stewardship and land management practices.

Testimony was not all doom and gloom as examples of successful coordination and cooperation were discussed during the hearing. Kevin Gallagher, Associate Director for Core Science Systems, United States Geological Survey (USGS), stated that funding for the 3-Dimentional Elevation Program (3DEP) has been proposed in the Presidents FY14 budget. MAPPS has supported 3DEP funding through the appropriations process. In 2013, the USGS and agencies combined resources and spent $6 Million on LiDAR collection across the country as part of 3DEP. The 2014 funding request has been approved by the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.

In recent years, USGS has reduced its in-house capability and increased its use of the private sector in numerous geospatial activities. The USGS values and recognizes the capabilities of the private sector. The private sector has the capacity and instrumentation and quite frankly the expertise it is an effective partnership and a model for other federal agencies, said Mr. Gallagher.

GAO also stated that it is important for the government agencies leverage the private sector in the geospatial field to the extent possible.

During testimony by MAPPS, that national association of private sector geospatial firms, the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO) and Association of American State Geologist (AASG) all agreed that better coordination of geospatial data is needed.

There is a critical need to reorganize Federal geospatial activities, including governance, strategic investment in data, structure, and in understanding the proper roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders, including government and the private sector, said Jeff Lower, MAPPS President, (PAR LLC, Bossier City, LA).

In addition, many of the comments and questions raised by members of the committee included a bipartisan view that a better understanding of how the government uses and spends on geospatial products and services will better serve the nation and the taxpayers.

An archived recording of the hearing is available for review.

About the Author

Nick Palatiello

Nick Palatiello... is the assistant executive director for external affairs at MAPPS, where he oversees and supervises all communications with outside audiences. He also serves as the manager of state chapters; over sees the day-to-day operations of chapters and assists in the development of new chapters.
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