American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

NAPA Report on Geographic Information for the 21st Century: Building a Strategy for the Nation (1-15-98)

On January 13, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) held a meeting to release their study entitled Geographic Information for the 21st Century: Building a Strategy for the Nation. NAPA (headquartered in Washington, D.C.) is an inde pendent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization chartered by Congress in 1967 to assist federal, state, and local governments improve performance.

The study was requested by the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) and sponsored by four federal agencies (the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Ocean Service) involved in the te chnology and practice of surveying and mapping. The request came at a time when Congress was seriously considering legislation to privatize federal mapping activities. For background, see January 1996 Political Scene c olumn from Geotimes: "USGS Abolition Threat Gets Second Wind." The study was a compromise measure intended to provide a basis for future legislation.

The study, prepared by a select NAPA panel, examined the spatial data operations of the requesting agencies and the activities of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), currently chaired by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. The FGDC was esta blished in 1990 to coordinate various surveying, mapping and spatial data activities of federal agencies.

The report's most significant recommendation is that Congress create a new private, nonprofit structure, termed the National Spatial Data Council (NSDC), to serve as a forum for all organizations engaged in developing and maintaining geographic data. It further recommends the merging of some federal geographic information activities and that the NSDC guide the establishment and maintenance of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). The Infrastructure represents an emerging network of materials, te chnology, and the entities and individuals necessary to acquire, process, store, and distribute geographic data.

The goals of the NSDC would include the following:

The study addressed congressional initiatives to abolish certain federal agencies that provide geographic information, to privatize such functions, and the devolution of those activities to the states. The panel found that the goals of the NSDI require in tergovernmental coordination and cooperation stating it would be reckless to devolve or privatize major federal responsibilities. However, it did recommend to fully realize the potential of the NSDI and to increase efficiency, the National Geodetic Survey of the National Ocean Service be transferred to the U.S. Geological Survey and the creation of a new Geographic Data Service within the USGS.

The report emphasizes the need for better collaboration among all levels of government and the private sector by increasing multilateral partnerships. Geographic information technologies are critical to measure global climate, forest health, natural disas ter recovery and a fundamental aspect of the nation's economy.

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

Contributed by John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs.
Last updated January 15, 1998

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