Congressman Calls for a Subcommittee with Jurisdiction over Federal Geospatial Activities

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Congressman Doug Lamborn recently sent a letter to the House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings asking that a Natural Resources Subcommittee be formed that has primary jurisdiction over federal geospatial activities.  In his letter to Hastings, the Congressman for Colorado’s 5th Congressional District noted that, “Congress does not have a committee or subcommittee with primary jurisdiction over geospatial activities. Rather, the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO) has concluded the responsibility for oversight and authorization of Federal geospatial activities is spread among more than 30 House and Senate committees and subcommittees.”  In calling for the subcommittee to be established, he reasoned, “Whereas the FGDC is chaired by and the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) reports to the Department of the Interior, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources would be most appropriate.  I believe that the Energy and Mineral Subcommittee is the appropriate location considering the oversight role over USGS.”

A copy of the letter was emailed out to his constituents today and is pasted below:

Dear Chairman Hastings,

When the Committee on Natural Resources organizes for the 114th Congress, I would respectfully urge the establishment of a subcommittee with clear primary jurisdiction over Federal geospatial activities.  Over the last four years as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, I have attempted to steer a clear course on the importance of our federal geospatial resources and the interaction between government, state, local, and private shareholders in this space.

In recent years, there has been explosive growth in the use of geospatial data in the U.S. economy. The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) has estimated that as much as 90% of government information has a geospatial information component. Other studies have shown that up to 80% of the information managed by business is connected to a specific location. While a 1993 survey by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) found total annual geospatial expenditures in Federal agencies alone was close to $4 billion.

A hearing I convened found there is no current, accurate accounting of the government’s annual investment. A study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated that at least $30 billion is generated by geospatial-related companies annually. The geospatial sector has steadily increased by 35% a year, with the commercial side growing at an incredible rate of 100% annually. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that the geospatial sector is one of the three technology areas that will create the most jobs in this decade.

Despite this extraordinary growth and the near-ubiquitous presence of geospatial data in government and the private sector, Congress does not have a committee or subcommittee with primary jurisdiction over geospatial activities. Rather, the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO) has concluded the responsibility for oversight and authorization of Federal geospatial activities is spread among more than 30 House and Senate committees and subcommittees.

Whereas the FGDC is chaired by and the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) reports to the Department of the Interior, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources would be most appropriate.  I believe that the Energy and Mineral Subcommittee is the appropriate location considering the oversight role over USGS.

A subcommittee with primary oversight jurisdiction over Federal geospatial activities will help assure that taxpayers’ investment is both efficient and strategic. The oversight, coordination, efficiency and utilization of geospatial data to enhance the quality of life of the American people would be enhanced, and the ability of Congress to conduct oversight, as well as pass legislation to improve coordination, would be improved through a focal point subcommittee.

Geospatial activities have benefited from oversight by Congress and the Executive Branch on a bipartisan basis. The following are a few highlights:

  • Executive Order 12906, “Coordinating Geographic Data Acquisition and Access: The National Spatial Data Infrastructure”, was issued by President Clinton on April 11, 1994. This created the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) as a strategic investment of the Federal government and established the Department of the Interior (DOI) as the lead agency in the FGDC.
  • A National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) report, requested by Congress, was released in January, 1998. “Geographic Information for the 21st Century Building-A Strategy for the Nation” called for a reorganization of the Executive Branch agencies in order to improve coordination within the Federal government and with state and local government, the private sector, and the academic community.
  • Two hearings were held in 2003 and 2004 by the Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census of the House Committee on Government Reform. These hearings identified the challenges and shortcomings of current Federal geospatial coordination. This subcommittee was later disbanded.

At the request of the House Subcommittee, the Government Accountability Office investigated Federal geospatial activities and reported “efforts have not been fully successful in reducing redundancies in geospatial investments” and “federal agencies are still independently acquiring and maintaining potentially duplicative and costly data sets and systems. Until these problems are resolved, duplicative geospatial investments are likely to persist.”

  • In response to these hearings and the GAO report, the Bush Administration established a “Geospatial Line of Business” initiative. However, it has not been able to accurately account for annual Federal geospatial expenditures.
  • In 2008, DOI Secretary Dirk Kempthorne established the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) to “provide advice and recommendations related to management of Federal and national geospatial programs, the development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, and the implementation of Office of Management and Budget Circular A-16 and Executive Order 12906”.
  • In July of 2009, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing entitled “Federal Geospatial Data Management.” This subcommittee identified that the Federal government spends billions of dollars each year to acquire and manage geospatial data, which go into making maps for consumers, state and local officials, and emergency responders, among others. The subcommittee also found that DOI has estimated that up to half of the Federal investment in geospatial data is redundant.

The subcommittee examined how the Federal government manages the geospatial activities of its various agencies, and how information sharing between Federal, state, and local governments, and between the public and private sectors, can be improved.

  • In August 2009 and June 2010, OMB published memos on “place-based” policies, more appropriately referred to as “geospatial”. Within these memos, these policies sought to leverage investments by focusing resources in targeted places and drawing on the compounding effect of well-coordinated action. Effective geospatial policies can influence how rural and metropolitan areas develop, how well they function as places to live, work, operate a business, preserve heritage, and more. Such policies can also streamline otherwise redundant and disconnected programs. Between now and 2050, the expected population growth – of nearly 140 million people – will require, among other things, the construction of more than 200 billion square feet of new housing, business space, and retail development and major new investments in all forms of physical infrastructure. The new construction will constitute an estimated two thirds of all development on the ground in 2050.
  • In May 2012, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing entitled “Federal Geospatial Spending, Duplication and Land Inventory Management”. This hearing covered the importance of updating Federal land mapping practices for job creation, additional use of public lands and scientific advancements. The hearing also focused on the Federal government’s mapping and geospatial management programs including Federal data reliability and management. Advances in mapping technology and demands for mapping products have created greater demand in the Federal government for geospatial services. However, the coordination between agencies often fails to produce the best information or value for various constituencies and stakeholders. Frequently, multiple Federal agencies will request mapping of the same area at the same time, wasting Federal resources, and taxpayer dollars.
  • GAO issued a report, “Geospatial Information: OMB and Agencies Need to Make Coordination a Priority to Reduce Duplication”, (GAO-13-94, November 26, 2012) where it reported duplication and lack of coordination still exist.
  • In December 2013, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources found the Federal government lacks a current, accurate geospatial inventory of the land it owns, resulting in waste, duplication, and reduced revenue from public land activities.  The Subcommittee also found there is still no accurate accounting of Federal geospatial expenditures.  GAO testified that “better coordination among federal agencies that collect, maintain, and use geospatial information could help reduce duplication of geospatial investments and provide the opportunity for potential savings of millions of dollars” and reiterated the need for action among several federal agencies, FGDC, and OMB.

Another GAO report on duplication among Federal geospatial activities and expenditures is expected to be released in February, 2015.  It will be critically important that the House has a subcommittee dedicated to these important activities so the GAO recommendations can be reviewed and implemented, with prompt consideration of any required legislation.

For these reasons, I encourage you to consider expanding the title of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources to the Subcommittee on Energy, Mineral and Geospatial Resources in the 114th Congress.

Sincerely,

Doug Lamborn

Member of Congress


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