A series of brief articles is being published
simultaneously in seven professional magazines on several
topics covered in the National Academy of Public Administration's
January 1998 report, Geographic Information for the
21st Century: Building a Strategy for the Nation.
Roger Sperry, project co-director, is the editor. Topics
covered in the first four articles are:
- National Spatial Data Infrastructure
- Make No Small Plans
- The National Spatial Data Council
- State and Local Government Roles in the
- Future Federal Role in building a GI
base and contributing to the NSDI.
Following publication of these articles,
a summary of readers' responses will be prepared for publication
in the participating magazines.
Two additional articles may follow:
and Research Community Involvement in the NSDI.
Civil/National Security Interface on Geographic
Efforts are underway to draft legislation
defining the National Spatial Data Infrastructure and creating
a National Spatial Data Council. Readers also are being
provided an opportunity here to discuss the NAPA report's
outline of this legislation. As draft legislation becomes
available, it will also be posted in this forum.
This electronic forum provides a place for
the articles' readers to express their views on each of the
article topics, the draft legislation, as well as the overall
message of the NAPA report. Our goal is to stimulate
dialogue in the professional communities where geographic
information is produced and used so as to influence policy
direction and implementation of the report's recommendations.
Data Infrastructure - "Make No Small Plans"
National Spatial Data Council
State and Local Government
Roles in Building the NSDI
Future Federal Roles in GI
and the NSDI
Private Sector and Research
Community Involvement in the NSDI
Civil / National Security
Interface on Geographic Information
"Make no small plans!" admonished
Secretary Bruce Babbitt to attendees of the June 1999 GeoData
Forum. Quoting Daniel Hudson Burnham's credo in designing
New York City's Central Park, Babbitt hinted that building
the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) requires a
similar effort and energy.
Because about four fifths of all geographic
information (GI) is produced at the local level, it
makes sense that the NSDI be built from the ground up.
However, there are several stumbling blocks to doing so.
Chief among these are what Lambert and Garie, in their article
on the National Spatial Data Council (NSDC), term the
"lack [of] a full complement of national policy, funding,
mandates, programs, and tools" to make the ground-up
efforts work. The NAPA report noted that the NSDI concept
"appears to not yet have been widely adopted within the federal
government, and . . . is even less well-known
at the state and local levels and in the private sector."
To change that condition, the NAPA report calls for measures
to "engender national attention to, or debate on the
merits of, an NSDI." The report notes that
"there is license to proceed, but no national mandate."
Sperry and Donahue's article on the NSDI
points to another dilemma in building it - is NSDI a process
or content, a verb or a noun? Or is it both?
Neither? And how can NSDI be translated from an
abstract concept to an exciting opportunity -
a "virtual GI moonshot" which will energize the
country to build the NSDI?
Plans and Big Problems
"The community involved with creating geographic
information (GI) shares one common truth. None
of us can do this in isolation," according to Susan
Lambert and Hank Garie in their article on the proposed National
Spatial Data Council. They said: "The cost of
accurate and quality data is too onerous to create without
partnerships, and single-purpose data sets are a relic of
the past. As we strive to develop digital data to represent
our respective geographic areas, there is a broad collective
goal to be able to integrate data seamlessly into a National
Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI)."
The establishment of a NSDC, as recommended
by the NAPA panel, would provide a vehicle for equitable stakeholder
involvement of all relevant public and private-sector interests.
A NSDC, a private non-profit organization, could be empowered
to guide both the process and construction aspects of the
NSDI under a consensus-building umbrella. This organizational
umbrella would provide a forum for national support and direction
- Is the NSDC proposal a logical complement
to the Federal Geographic Data Committee?
- Should the council by established by
- Who should be on the council?
- What functions should the council perform?
- How should the council be financed?
Let us know what you think.
Transportation Society of America
Geographic Data Committee
to Existing Organizations
"Just the facts, Ma'am!" So said Sergeant
Joe Friday on the TV show Dragnet many years ago. Amidst
all the discussions of roles and responsibility for GI (geographic
information) , one fact stands out: More than 80 percent
of all GI data is produced at local government levels.
As the mantra of "think globally,
act locally" and the attractions of place-based decision-making
become more established, citizens will come to expect more
of governing units closest to them. As geopolitical
entities, states and local governments are moving toward thinking
and acting in terms of metropolitan regions, ecosystem and
In their article on state and local roles,
Eric Anderson and David Nystrom note that geospatial data
generated by such governments create links between addresses
and data within their service delivery systems. These
governments also recognize the utility of a multipurpose cadastre
which links data at the lowest common denominator (the parcel)
to local service systems as the service transaction takes
place. This transactionally aggregated, spatially linked
data provides an unparalleled opportunity to foster the bottom-up
development of the NSDI. The NAPA panel said responsibility
for generating and maintaining this data should be widely
shared among all layers of government, as well as the private
and non-profit sectors.
What will be the "shape" of future GI functions
in state and local governments? How can the geospatial
data they generate be aggregated into an NSDI envisioned by
the NAPA panel?
and American Federalism
Yes, Camelot is dead. Broadly speaking,
government is still seen as part of the problem, not part
of the solution. Moreover, technology now enables state
and local governments and the private sector to be major partners
in building the NSDI.
What remains for the federal agencies engaged
in geographic information (GI)? The NAPA report
described the federal roles as:
- Ensuring GI availability to support federal
policy-making and operational responsibilities
- Ensuring that federally-imposed GI requirements
on state, local, and tribal governments are reasonably attainable
- Helping to improve GI data quality and
accessibility to benefit an expanding array of users through
standards, a national clearinghouse, data archiving, and
basic geo-science support.
With copious GI data still needed to accomplish
agency missions, will limited federal staff turn more to administering
contracts to secure the needed data and accompanying analysis?
Will the Feds continue to function in their mission-specific
hierarchies at the cost of maintaining base GI capabilities
needed to build the NSDI? Should the feds become
"enablers" as opposed to "doers?" Even if they
should, can they?
The NAPA GI Report advocated
the creation of a Geographic Data Service to build a "critical
mass" of base cartographic expertise, but to date the administration
leadership has only hinted at very limited consolidation.
Should federal GI functions remain, as the NAPA report said,
"accidents of history?" Or will a new model emerge
from the present mission-specific panoply of federal GI functions?
magazine's cover story on Hock
Geographic Data Committee's Evolution
The NAPA panel was asked: If some
functions are deemed suitable to be commercialized, privatized,
or transferred to non-federal governments, what would be the
effectiveness and economic impact of those transfers?
The panel concluded that the division between inherently governmental
and private-sector activities was changing, will continue
to shift, and is best settled by consensus rather than reliance
on predetermined or philosophical judgments. The public
purposes served by geographic information (GI) are extensive
and fundamental to a broad range of governmental activities.
However, the GI functions that need to be retained as inherently
governmental are limited. The panel emphasized increased
use of multilateral partnering and outsourcing decisions based
on respective roles, responsibilities, and competencies of
the governmental and private sectors. Arbitrary percentage
targets for contracting out should be avoided.
The panel noted that GI technologies have
advanced rapidly, paralleling the major advances in its supporting
technologies - satellite remote sensing, data processing,
and telecommunications. They said the Federal Geographic
Data Committee could support better interagency R&D coordination
of high-priority GI technology needs at all governmental levels
and mobilize interagency, state, and local support for selective,
high-payoff technology developments with utility in multiple
What are promising GI areas where the private
sector can assume greater responsibility? What examples
on ongoing and planned partnerships demonstrate this potential?
What are major obstacles?
How can the federal government better coordinate
its GI R&D agenda as well as those of state and
Mapping Science Committee
- Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act (FAIR)
Consortium for Geographic Information Science
Report on Geographic Information Science and
Geospatial Activities at NSF
Topic Group List | Back to Topic Description
The NAPA panel said coordination between
the domestic and national security components of the federal
sector could be improved. They found that while coordination
of product production and dissemination were reasonably good,
other aspects of GI (geographic information) coordination
between these sectors could be improved. More active
participation by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA)
and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
in the work of the FGDC is needed, and a new policy-level
committee involving both civil and national security agency
heads would be influential in promoting better coordination,
especially on policies needed to foster greater civil use
of classified imagery.
Given significant differences in funding,
operations, command structure, and applications of GI, how
can better cooperation be achieved between the civil and national
security sectors? What classified products would
be of greatest use to civil users? How could the
markets of private-sector imagery providers be protected if
greater access to classified imagery were granted to civil
maps and geodata
Global Land Information System
Use of Classified Imagery
Topic Group List | Back to Topic Description
The NAPA panel believes that legislation
is needed for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI),
but the case beyond Executive Order 12906 defining the NSDI
still needs to be made. Until recently, neither the
administration, major federal agencies using GI (geographic
information), nor their congressional mentors seemed inclined
to propose and pass a new law even if they were well-positioned
to do so. Now, however, proposed bills have been drafted,
and the administration seems more inclined to support prospective
congressional sponsors of such legislation.
The NAPA report listed six topics to be
addressed in the legislation:
- a List of congressional findings about
- a Statement of national goals and definition
for the NSDI
- a Charter for the National Spatial Data
- Consolidation of federal base GI functions
- Modifications to existing law to facilitate
GI partnerships, CRADAs, and private-sector procurements
- Amendments or rescissions of current
law to modernize and conform existing program
- authorizations to the NSDI concept.
- What topics would you like to see addressed
in this legislation?
- Should Congress concentrate on the NSDI
and NSDC or also make changes in existing law and federal
agency GI responsibilities?
- How would you define the NSDI and what
goals are appropriate?
Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology