GAO-14-226T, Dec 5, 2013
The President and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have 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.
While OMB has oversight responsibilities for geospatial data, GAO reported in November 2012 that according to OMB staff, the agency did not have complete and reliable information to identify potentially duplicative geospatial investments. GAO also reported that FGDC, federal departments and agencies, and OMB had not yet fully implemented policies and procedures for coordinating geospatial investments because these efforts had not been a priority. As a result, efforts to acquire data were uncoordinated and the federal government acquired duplicative geospatial data. For example, a National Geospatial Advisory Committee representative stated that a commercial provider leases the same proprietary parcel data to six federal agencies. GAO concluded that unless the key entities determined that coordinating geospatial investments was a priority, the federal government would continue to acquire duplicative geospatial information and waste taxpayer dollars.
Why GAO Did This Study
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.
In November 2012, GAO reported on efforts to reduce duplicative investments in geospatial data, focusing on OMB, FGDC, and three agencies: the Departments of Commerce, the Interior, and Transportation.
This statement summarizes the results of that November 2012 report on progress and challenges in coordinating geospatial information and includes updates on the implementation of recommendations made in that report.
What GAO Recommends
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.
- What technologies support volunteer data collection, analysis, and problem solving?
- How can volunteer data be integrated with formal data sets?
- How can open innovation and citizen science inform decision-making?
- What are the science, management, and policy impacts of citizen science?
- How do we measure success?
- Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (invited)
- Dr. Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology & Innovation, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (invited)
- Dr. Jake F. Weltzin, Ecologist, U.S. Geological Survey, and Executive Director, USA National Phenology Network
- Dr. Lina Nilsson, Innovation Director, Blum Center for Developing Economies, UC-Berkeley, and Founder, Tekla Labs
- Erin Heaney, Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York
- Dr. Stuart Lynn, Astronomer, Adler Planetarium, and Zooniverse
You can download the guidelines here (although it’s behind a pay wall).
Read more about this report at Spatial Reserves here and on pages 12 and 13 of the July-August 2013 edition of ApoGeo.
Date: July 31, 2013
Subject: NSDI Strategic Plan – Public Comment Period
I am pleased to announce that the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) is seeking public comment on the draft strategic plan for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). The draft plan, which has been developed through collaboration with partners and stakeholders in the geospatial community, describes a broad national vision for the NSDI and includes goals and objectives for the Federal government’s role in continued sustainable development of the NSDI.
I encourage you to review the plan and offer any comments for improvement. The strategic plan, along with instructions for providing comments, is posted at the following address: http://www.fgdc.gov/nsdi-plan and a copy is attached. Comments may be submitted electronically to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments are due by August 21, 2013.
The new NSDI plan is important and timely for several reasons. First, while the FGDC community has engaged in a series of strategic initiatives over the past several years, including the Geospatial Line of Business and Geospatial Platform initiatives, the current NSDI strategic plan has not been revised for a number of years. Second, geospatial technologies, industries, and applications have seen tremendous growth and change over the past several years, and our strategies need to be modernized to align with and leverage these changes. In addition, the recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “OMB and Agencies Need to Make Coordination a Priority to Reduce Duplication” (GAO-13-94), reaffirmed the importance of improving coordination and reducing potential duplication and recommended the development of an updated NSDI strategy.
As we have developed the plan, we have provided multiple opportunities for participation and input. These opportunities have included forums for leaders of key geospatial organizations, workshops for Federal leaders, sessions at geospatial professional conferences, and public meetings of the FGDC Coordination Group, the FGDC Steering Committee, and the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC). Our goal has been to engage leaders of key geospatial organizations in the early stages of the planning process, gather initial input, and seek continuing involvement. The input and suggestions we received from our partners, both within and outside of the Federal government, has been instrumental in shaping the new plan. The NGAC, in particular, has provided extensive and thoughtful input into the plan.
Following the public comment period, a revised draft of the plan will be prepared for final review and adoption by the FGDC Steering Committee. Following completion of the strategic plan, the FGDC community will develop more detailed project plans for the goals and objectives in the strategic plan.
We appreciate your long-standing involvement and support for the NSDI, and we look forward to working with you and your organizations as we finalize and implement the new NSDI strategic plan. Additional information about the NSDI planning process is posted at: http://www.fgdc.gov/nsdi-plan. We will post additional information on the webpage as the planning process advances.
Anne J. Castle
Chair, Federal Geographic Data Committee
Assistant Secretary for Water and Science
U.S. Department of the Interior
For the CA Supreme Court ruling (PDF), visit: CA Supreme Court Decision July 8, 2013
To the extent that the term ―computer mapping system is ambiguous, the constitutional canon requires us to interpret it in a way that maximizes the public‘s access to information unless the Legislature has expressly provided to the contrary. (Officeof Inspector General v. Superior Court, supra, 189 Cal.App.4th at p.709.) As explained above, we find nothing in the text, statutory context, or legislative history of the term―computer mapping system‖ that allows us to say the Legislature clearly sought to exclude GIS formatted parcel data from the definition of a public record when it can be disclosed without any accompanying software.Applying the interpretive rule set forth in article I, section 3, subdivision (b)(2), we must conclude that section 6254.9(b)‘s exclusion of―computer mapping systems from the definition of a public record does not encompass a parcel database in a GIS file format. Contrary to what the County contends, this reading of the statute does not ―repeal or nullify‖ a ―statutory exception to the right of access to public records‖ in contravention of article I, section 3, subdivision (b)(5). Our holding simply construes the terms of section 6254.9 in light of the constitutional mandate that a statute ―shall be narrowly construed if it limits the right of access.(Cal. Const., art. I, §3, subd. (b)(2).)We note that this interpretation is consistent with a 2005 opinion letter issued by the Attorney General in response to a request by a member of the Assembly to determine whether ― parcel boundary map data maintained in an electronic format by a county assessor [is] subject to public inspection and copying under provisions of the California Public Records Act (88 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 153, 153 (2005).) The opinion letter explained that ―the term ̳computer mapping systems‘ in section 6254.9 does not refer to or include basic maps and boundary information per se (i.e., the basic data compiled, updated, and maintained by county assessors), but rather denotes unique computer programs to process such data using mapping functions original programs that have been designed and produced by a public agency.‖ (88 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. at p. 159.) Accordingly, the Attorney General concluded, ―parcel map data maintained in an electronic format by a county assessor does not qualify as a ̳computer mapping system‘under the exemption provisions of section 6254.9 (88 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. at p. 159) and must be provided upon request as a public record at a fee limited to the direct cost of producing the copy (id.at pp.163–164). As noted above, the record here indicates that 47 counties in California maintain GIS-formatted parcel base maps and provide access to those GIS-formatted databases as public records. (Ante, at p. 3.) Of those 47 counties, 19 changed their fee policies following the Attorney General‘s opinion letter, according to Sierra Club‘s expert.Because section 6254.9(b) does not exclude GIS-formatted databases like the OC Landbase from the definition of a public record, such databases are subject to disclosure unless otherwise exempt from the PRA. Unlike the records at issue in County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 1301, the County here does not argue that the OC Landbase is subject to any other exemptions. The fact that the County offered to produce the information underlying the database in an alternative format suggests that no such exemption applies. Similarly, the County‘s general practice of producing the OC Landbase to the public, albeit pursuant to a licensing agreement, suggests that its contents do not implicate any of the confidentiality or other concerns underlying th e exemptions set forth in section 6254. Because the OC Landbase is not excluded from the definition of a public record under section 6254.9(b), and because the County does not argue that the database is otherwise exempt from disclosure, the County must produce the OC Landbase in response to Sierra Club‘s request―in any electronic format in which it holds the information‖ (§6253.9 (a)(1)) at a cost not to exceed the direct cost of duplication (§§ 6253.9 (a)(2),6253, subd. (b)).
Earth observation is a science and technology with tremendous power to collect data over the whole of the Earth at many wavelengths and at many spatial resolutions. But does this science and technology, or rather the use of this science and technology, have an ethical dimension? This article explores the application of ethical concepts to Earth observation. Three main aspects of ethics are examined: duty theories of ethics, consequentialist ethics, and environmental ethics. These ethical ideas are then applied to the UN Principles on Remote Sensing, the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters and to Google Earth, and also to questions of security and privacy. The article concludes that there is no absolute ethical position in relation to Earth observation, but a dependency on the perspective of the observer. For link to the article (but it’s behind a $58 paywall, seriously), click here.