GAO Reports on Federal Geospatial Investments and Coordination

Geospatial Information: Better Coordination and Oversight Could Help Reduce Duplicative Investments

GAO-04-824T June 23, 2004

The collection, maintenance, and use of location-based (geospatial) information are essential to federal agencies carrying out their missions. Geographic information systems (GIS) are critical elements used in the areas of homeland security, healthcare, natural resources conservation, and countless other applications. GAO was asked to review the extent to which the federal government is coordinating the efficient sharing of geospatial assets, including through Office of Management and Budget (OMB) oversight. GAO’s report on this matter, Geospatial Information: Better Coordination Needed to Identify and Reduce Duplicative Investments (GAO-04-703), is being released today. GAO’s testimony focuses on the extent to which the federal government is coordinating the sharing of geospatial assets, including through oversight measures in place at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in order to identify and reduce redundancies in geospatial data and systems.

OMB, cross-government committees, and individual federal agencies have taken actions to coordinate geospatial investments across agencies and with state and local governments. However, these efforts have not been fully successful due to (1) a complete and up-to-date strategic plan is missing. The existing strategic plan for coordinating national geospatial resources and activities is out of date and lacks specific measures for identifying and reducing redundancies, (2) federal agencies are not consistently complying with OMB direction to coordinate their investments, and (3) OMB’s oversight methods have not been effective in identifying or eliminating instances of duplication. This has resulted from OMB not collecting consistent, key investment information from all agencies. Consequently, agencies continue to independently acquire and maintain potentially duplicative systems. This costly practice is likely to continue unless coordination is significantly improved.


Geographic Information Systems: Challenges to Effective Data Sharing

GAO-03-874T June 10, 2003

Geographic information systems (GIS) manipulate, analyze, and graphically present an array of information associated with geographic locations, have been invaluable to all levels of government. Their usefulness in disaster response was recently demonstrated during the Space Shuttle Columbia recovery effort. GIS provided precise maps and search grids to guide crews to the debris that was strewn across 41 counties in Texas and Louisiana. The federal government has long been attempting to develop an integrated nationwide GIS network. The information available through such a network could significantly enhance decision–making in myriad public–service areas, including emergency response, national security, law enforcement, health care, and the environment. Among GAO’s objectives were to describe the federal government’s efforts to coordinate GIS activities, the long-standing challenges of adopting and implementing federal GIS standards, and the role of Geospatial One-Stop.

For decades, the federal government has tried to reduce duplicative geospatial data collection by coordinating GIS activities within and outside the federal government. For example, in 1990, the Office of Management and Budget established the Federal Geographic Data Committee to promote the coordinated use, sharing, and dissemination of geospatial data nationwide. In 1994, the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) program was established by executive order to address the problem of the redundancy and incompatibility of geospatial information on a national basis. More recently, Geospatial One-Stop, a component of NSDI, was initiated. Although efforts to build the NSDI are progressing, achieving the vision of a nationwide GIS network remains a formidable challenge. Developing standards that meet stakeholders’ needs remains a challenging and time-consuming task, and achieving full participation across governments in their development has also been difficult. Geospatial One-Stop is aimed at promoting coordinated geospatial data collection and maintenance across all levels of government. Among its objectives are (1) deploying an Internet portal for one-stop access to geospatial data; (2) developing data standards; and (3) encouraging greater coordination among federal, state, and local agencies. While these objectives are important, Geospatial One-Stop has focused on limited, near-term tasks and was not intended to fully address the longer-term challenges of implementing the NSDI. A much more substantial effort will be required to attain the broader vision of seamless integration of GIS data nationwide. Existing draft standards may need further revision, and more extensive coordination efforts may be required to ensure broad adoption at all levels of government. Further, the effort is likely to require a continuing effort over an extended period of time, due to the fact that significant investments have already been made in existing non-standard systems.

For additional mapping-related GAO reports, click here.


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2 responses to “GAO Reports on Federal Geospatial Investments and Coordination”

  1. Gerald O'Hara says :

    First of all; my government Email address is “gerald.o’”. Just because your Email validation filter is obsolete doesn’t make my Email address “Invalid.”

    Although I know many of my GIS colleagues feel as I do, it’s unlikely more than a handful will express those feelings in writing. I do note that to date, no one has volunteered to be, “… the first to like this post.”
    Throughout the late eighties and through the nineties those of us who mastered this IT Specialty tried to holler up the ‘chain of command’ about the potential & power of this technology to no avail. There were a few pilot programs but they were isolated and in one case I’m very familiar with, poorly managed and in another, poorly executed. Since the year 2000 things have changed. Now we can’t keep the top of the food chain away from it to the exclusion of those who have the expertise.
    GIS Professionals are to IT as Oncologists are to General Practitioners. I’d be willing to bet you wouldn’t want your mother’s breast cancer diagnosed, treated & managed by a General Practitioner. If the last six years has told us anything in this regard, GIS under Bureau level IT has been a disaster for us. They don’t understand the technology and they are antagonistic towards GIS. Don’t expect them to acknowledge any of that.
    BTW, in spite of anything you’ve been told to the contrary, GIS is a Data Base Management System. That’s right; think SQL or Oracle.
    The question boils down to this: Do you want this GIS Technology to serve our clients and the tax payers more or do you want it to be a feel good set of graphics on an agency’s WEB Site? The answer is thus: Pull us into the decision making process or continue on as you have.

  2. 15YearGISPro says :


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