Government Affairs Report: A Quest for Intergovernmental Cooperation within the Domain of Geographic Data (2/99)

The following column by GAP Senior Advisor John Dragonetti is reprinted from the February 1999 issue of The Professional Geologist, a publication of the American Institute of Professional Geologists . It is reprinted with permission.

In October 1990, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) revised its existing policy on surveying and mapping in response to an ever-increasing demand from local communities for the federal government to share geographic data. The new policy was also a recognition that by then nearly 100 federal agencies were using geographic data for applications involving federal land ownership and use. Although OMB is primarily known as the federal government's budgetary arm, its role in the Executive Office of the President includes the delegated power to issue directives -- known as circulars --that stipulate certain specified activities of federal agencies. The revised Circular A-16, entitled "Coordination of Surveying, Mapping, and Related Spatial Data Activities," extended the scope of spatial data coordination and created a new interagency committee to guide and oversee geographic data coordination. This committee, labeled the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), was charged with the responsibility for promoting the development, use, sharing, and distribution of surveying, mapping, and related spatial data. Another aspect of the OMB decree was the creation of a national spatial data resource specifically mandating the incorporation of state and local government as well as the private sector within the system. This resource was to become known as the National Spatial Data Infrastructure or NSDI.

Babbitt Takes Control
Management of the FGDC was originally placed within the U.S. Geological Survey. Then in 1993, Vice President Al Gore adopted the activity as part of his reinventing government strategy formally known as the National Performance Review. Shortly thereafter, during the 1994 fiscal year, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt assumed leadership of the committee, where the authority still resides. The success of the FGDC can be traced through the continuous elevation of its stature within the government's hierarchy. From its beginnings as a modest undertaking by a few federal agencies to its adoption throughout all levels of government, the personal involvement of a cabinet-level official, and finally becoming accepted at the White House and as an element of the Presidential budget.

Gore Announces New Initiatives
In a speech at the Brookings Institution last September, the Vice President criticized the uncoordinated expansion within many of the nation's populated areas. He deplored the many problems associated with congestion and called for a better informed growth strategy for America's cities, suburbs, and rural areas. One element of his stated plan to achieve this purpose is a series of nationwide "listening sessions" to be chaired by members of the President's Cabinet. Scheduled for this coming fall, the sessions are to provide a forum to hear how communities are grappling with sprawl and how the federal government can offer assistance. As a critical component of such assistance, the President's fiscal year 2000 budget reportedly will significantly expand grants for communities to allow access to the NSDI clearinghouse.

This January, the Vice President proposed a "Better America Bonds" initiative designed to assist communities in alleviation of traffic congestion, greater protection for water quality, restoration of abandoned industrial sites, and preservation of green space.

Another aspect of the Administration's plan is to utilize geographic information system (GIS) technology to aid communities in more suitable patterns for land growth. Gore identified the launching of six demonstration projects across the country to provide technical support for locally generated efforts. The communities identified to receive demonstration status were Dane County, Wisconsin; Gallatin County, Montana; Tillamook County, Oregon; Tijuana River Watershed, California; the Upper Susquehanna/Lackawanna River area, Pennsylvania; and the city of Baltimore, Maryland.

The Partnership
The 16 federal agencies that currently comprise the FGDC in cooperation with organizations from state, local and tribal governments, the academic community and the private sector have formed the Community/Federal Information Partnership. This group has initiated a strategy to provide incentives for communities to widely distribute geographic data through a competitive matching grant program, and to support federal agencies in the implementation of the NSDI.

The Forum
The FGDC is planning a National GeoData Forum in Washington, D.C. on June 7-9, 1999. The forum is intended to reflect on the past, assess the present and explore future development of the NSDI. Meeting details are currently being arranged by a steering committee co-chaired by the Department of the Interior's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Mark Schaefer and FGDC Coordination Group Chair Gene Thorley. Confirming the national government's determination to truly include the entire realm of geographic data practitioners in future activities, the steering committee consists of representatives from numerous governmental and commercial organizations. The committee includes, among its members, Congressman Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) and representatives from the International City/County Manager's Association, the National League of Cities, the National Geographic Society, the University Consortium for Geographic Information Sciences, the National States Geographic Information Council, the National Association of Counties, the Western Governor's Association, and several business groups.

Geographic or spatial data is a fundamental component of land planning, land and resource management, and recreational siting. The geosciences have a great deal to contribute to these activities and provide many of the data layers for GIS-based systems. However, our profession will not be adequately represented in these initiatives unless professional geologists become more involved. The FGDC has published a handbook titled "The Framework Introduction and Guide." It is available from the FGDC (c/o U.S. Geological Survey, 590 National Center, Reston, VA 20192, attn: J. Fox. Information is also available at

Acknowledgment: Norman Gunderson, FGDC Senior Advisor for Business Development.

This article is reprinted with permission from The Professional Geologist, published by the American Institute of Professional Geologists. AGI gratefully acknowledges that permission.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs.

Posted March 8, 1999

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