Congressional Report on GIS

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The Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a report in June entitled “Geospatial Information and Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Current Issues and Future Challenges” that provides an overview and discussion on GIS, and, in particular, how the federal geospatial enttities such as  the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) and The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) play a role in the coordination of spatial data at the various federal, state and local agency levels:

Congress has recognized the challenge of coordinating and sharing geospatial data from the local,county, and state level to the national level, and vice versa. The cost of geospatial information to the federal government has also been an ongoing concern. As much as 80% to 90% of government information has a geospatial component, according to different sources. The federal government’s role has changed from being a primary provider of authoritative geospatial information to coordinating and managing geospatial data and facilitating partnerships. Challenges to coordinating how geospatial data are acquired and used—collecting duplicative data sets, for example—at the local, state, and federal levels, in collaboration with the private sector, are not yet resolved.

Prepared for members of Congress, the report provides a primer on GIS with examples of the use of GIS, an overview of the NSDI and FGDC, and analysis of why data sharing among the various government levels is important.  The report concludes with a discussion on the establishment of a national GIS:

Congress may wish to consider how a national GIS or geospatial infrastructure would be conceived, perhaps drawing on proposals for these national efforts as described above, and how they would be similar to or differ from current efforts. Congress may also wish to examine its oversight role in the implementation of OMB Circular A-16, particularly in how federal agencies are coordinating their programs that have geospatial components. In 2004, GAO acknowledged that the federal government, through the FGDC and Geospatial One-Stop project, had taken actions to coordinate the government’s geospatial investments, but that those efforts had not been fully successful in eliminating redundancies between agencies. As a result, federal agencies were acquiring and maintaining potentially duplicative data sets and systems. Since then, it is not clear whether federal agencies are now successfully coordinating among themselves and measurably eliminating unnecessary duplication of effort. An additional challenge is how Congress oversees the federal geospatial enterprise when so much government information has a geospatial component, and many departments and agencies are actively involved in acquiring and using geospatial data for their own purposes.


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