Hearing on the Future of Federal Management of Geospatial Data

Yesterday (July 23) the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing about the future of federal geospatial data management. The purpose of the meeting was to cover various issues related to geospatial data, and to talk about the need to promote better geospatial data management and a national geospatial data infrastructure. The hearing was published on the House Committee on Natural Resources website for public viewing. The hearing included a panel of mapping professionals that were at the hearing to testify about the value of geospatial data and the importance of creating a national database of federal data. This panel also testified about the current state of federal geospatial data management, and the progress that has been made toward a national geospatial database. Below is a review of the hearing with a few comments about the issues mentioned.

The main point that came out of the hearing was that the current state of federal geospatial data management is fragmented and unorganized. One statistic that Committee Chair Jim Costa pointed out is that up to 50% of all federal geospatial data is redundant, meaning data is not being shared across organizations and departments. Several reasons for the lack of organization in federal geospatial data management were pointed out by Mr. John Palatiello who is the Executive Director of the Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors. The first reason mentioned by Mr. Palatiello was that there is not a national geospatial strategy, which he followed up with a comment about the significant problem of coordinating governmental agencies. The second issue mentioned was that the government is failing to link geospatial data to priorities of the nation. Mr. Palatiello gives the example of the mortgage crisis that has resulted in a large number of homes being foreclosed on during the past year. He mentions that we should have "seen it coming" and that better use of geospatial data could have provided us with an "early warning system". Another problem pointed out is that the government has not provided a framework of roles and responsibilities among the various governmental agencies that collect and use geospatial data. This has resulted in the duplication of data and lack of coordination with resources. The issues pointed out in this hearing are very important to anyone who employs geospatial data in their profession, and should result in some serious thought about the importance of organizing data across organizations. I recently defended my Master's thesis, which was a study about the displacement of public housing residents as a result of implementing a federal HOPE VI grant. Besides my criticisms of the implementation of the program, the essential argument made in my thesis was that better coordination of data could result in much more effective implementation of governmental programs like HOPE VI. In my thesis, I was fortunate to have access to three separate data sources (Police, Housing, and Census), two of which would have been difficult to obtain if I was not working as a graduate assistant for someone who was already connected with the local police and housing authorities. The point being made both in my thesis and in yesterday's hearing was that geospatial data are not easily obtained and organized, which is a serious burden toward the production of studies that could significantly improve the decision-making process for implementing governmental programs. I think as the public becomes more aware of the power of geospatial data it will become easier to get the government more interested in creating a national geospatial data infrastructure, but with the current economic problems it will be difficult to get the public interested enough in geospatial data management for the government to focus funding on the problem.