Wisconsin Geospatial News

National/state/local GIS issues get attention

As were about to go to press, I have some last-minute items gleaned from the recent NSGIC conference in Nashville. NSGIC is the National States Geographic Information Council, a group of people who primarily represent the GIS coordination function in the states. In all, about 200 people attended including sizeable contingents from the federal government and private sector.

Koch elected to board

Ted Koch, Wisconsin State Cartographer, was elected by his fellow state representatives to NSGICs board of directors for a two-year term. Ted has been active in NSGIC since its inception over ten years ago, and has served as NSGICs representative to the National Digital Orthophoto Steering Committee for five years.

States are moving ahead

A good part of the content of NSGIC meetings is reports from the states on their recent activities. In general, there is a lot of work being done in support of homeland security and emergency management. This includes data collection, GIS application development, and agreements across jurisdictions to share capabilities. The amount and level of activity varies greatly across the states.

Another area receiving major attention is web portals. Several states are far beyond where Wisconsin is including some with much smaller tax revenues than we have.

Several states have very aggressive statewide mapping programs that offer buy-in for local governments at greatly reduced cost. Some of these programs develop specific maps and databases, and others deal with base data such as orthophoto images and elevations.

A few states have adopted variations on the Wisconsin Land Information Programs locally generated funding model, but these states either raise less money than do we, or target the funded work more narrowly (e.g., road centerlines and addresses that are needed as part of emergency response systems that can quickly map the originating location of calls arriving from cellular telephones.

Budget woes are widespread

Many states reported some sort of cut in their budget this year. However, few programs have been cut totally, and some survived with no reduction even as other programs were cut. The same situation is affecting local governments.

At the federal level, there is little talk of higher funding. This is not surprising given the current deficit situation. However, there also is no focused talk of reallocating any funds between agencies in order to fuel alternative ways of doing business. Jim Geringer, the former governor of Wyoming, and now an advocate in the geospatial information industry, suggested that effective coordination of federal funds in this arena needed a new structure positioned above the various agencies. As an example, he pointed to the role of the Council on Environmental Quality in overseeing the National Environmental Policy Act which is implemented by a variety of agencies, most visibly the Environmental Protection Agency.

To some degree, this is a reflection of the difference between the way that state and local budgeting operates as compared to the federal government. Congress has an array of subcommittees that work on appropriations for the various agencies; even the budgets for the major divisions of the U.S. Geological Survey come through different subcommittees. Each agency has its mission, and from that arises a series of business cases for using geospatial data. Whats missing is a lever to justify contributing to the NSDI as a routine activity.

So it is understandable that overall coordination of federal mapping and spatial data funds is very difficult. This situation challenges us at the state and local levels, but it also means that federal staff attempting to coordinate across agencies are faced with numerous impediments.

Federal programs come and go

We have reported previously on the rather long list of federal government programs that have arisen in recent years to address the building of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) and tools to make it accessible. At the NSGIC meeting there was virtually no mention of the I-Team initiative, a project promoted by the Office of Management and Budget. A number of states have completed I-Team reports; Wisconsin has not. There was sentiment at the meeting for the federal government performing its own national I-Team analysis so that state coordinators can more easily identify collaboration opportunities.

By contrast, The National Map (TNM), the new rallying concept for the USGS Geological Surveys Geography Discipline, is becoming widely embraced. Despite TNMs outlandish goal of having spatial data content no more than one week old over the entire country, the general idea of relying on local and state sources resonates well with state coordinators. As USGS administrator Barbara Ryan said, after over a decade of discussion about building the NSDI, TNM is meant to be a product and not a process. In some ways it will take the place of the printed topographic map series which was symbolic of the USGS in the 20th century. The biggest challenge for TNM now is how to implement the vision.

GeoSpatial One-Stop (GOS), another recent federal initiative, is alive and growing. Led by Hank Garie who previously was the GIS coordinator for the state of New Jersey, GOS is primarily seen as the web portal providing access to a variety of data and services from across the country. Garie sees TNM is the underlying map interface for GOS.

Homeland security is the new kid on the block. The recently formed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) includes units that have a tradition in the geospatial information arena, such as FEMA. Homeland security in general is receiving much attention, and an initiative spearheaded by the Spatial Technology Industry Association (STIA) would clarify the need for locally produced data and provide a funding mechanism for its maintenance.

Enough acronyms?

NSGIC (an acronym) meetings aren’t the only ones where acronym traffic is heavy. There are plenty in this article, too. However, sometimes there is a new acronym that irresistible. How about LHF? “Low-hanging fruit” — those strategic targets that are easy to reach. It was the acronym de jour at NSGIC this year.