Wisconsin Geospatial News

The Year 2005: What’s on the Horizon?

Ted Koch

The month of December is an appropriate time to look back over the past year. It’s nice to bask in the glow of accomplishments, and maybe not quite as pleasant, to contemplate those things that didn’t go well. Of course, December is also the month for making New Year’s resolutions – let’s see, how many pounds will I lose in the next six months, and how many best sellers am I going to read in 2005?

Forget it, I doubt I’ll accomplish either of the above; my track record with New Year’s resolutions isn’t very good. So, I’ll steer clear of making public my resolutions, and instead focus on some things I believe will shape happenings in mapping and GIS/LIS over the next twelve months.

Homeland Security
I believe “homeland security” will play an ever increasingly influential role in our programs this next year and in the years to come, for that matter. Two things occurred recently to make this readily apparent.

The state/local grant program guidelines just released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) include substantial mention of GIS as a vital component in security planning. Appendix I of the grant guidelines includes thirteen bullet points for states to consider when developing a state/local security programs. Wisconsin has not addressed many of these issues, which points out just how much work we face to position this state to effectively use homeland security funds for geospatial data and program development.

Secondly, I don’t know if you noticed but buried near the end (beginning on page 228) of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, signed by President Bush on December 17th, is a section entitled, “Homeland Security Geospatial Information.” This 5-page section covers a broad scope. It says geospatial information preparedness in the U.S. is insufficient because of inadequate data compatibility, insufficient data sharing, and technology interoperability barriers. Definitions are given for geospatial information and geospatial technology. Although enlightening, none of this is new to us in Wisconsin.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this section is the creation of an Office of Geospatial Management that will be administered by a Geospatial Information Officer (GIO). The GIO has the responsibility to coordinate DHS geospatial information activities, to implement standards to facilitate interoperability of information related to homeland security, to make recommendations on awarding grants to fund geospatial data, and to create information sharing agreements with state, local and tribal governments.

Homeland security funds provide a vast potential to state and local agencies to expand and update their databases and to better communicate and share with others. To get a better handle on this potential, we have many critical data creation/sharing, organizational and funding issues to address. One step in this direction is to engage with the Wisconsin Land Information Association’s soon to be formed Homeland Security Task Force, to be chaired by Chris Diller from the WI Department of Military Affairs (DMA).

The year 2005 is going to be a big year for aerial imagery (orthophotos) in this state. The continued improvement in acquisition technologies (airborne GPS, digital cameras, LiDAR for terrain data collection), plus the increased capacity and speed of computers and processing software has dramatically lowered the cost and shortened the delivery time of ortho-corrected digital aerial imagery. At least 42 Wisconsin counties and many municipalities will be flown in the spring of 2005. Add to this the plans of the USDA-Farm Services Agency (FSA) to fly the entire state this summer under the banner of NAIP (National Agriculture Imagery Program with 1-meter resolution, natural color), and we will have a tremendous amount of activity in our skies this next year.

The state will have lots of new photos, and a wonderful up-to-date information base. Certainly, it would be nice to have the funding to acquire all of the state’s counties this spring. The fact that 42 counties are scheduled to be flown is testament to the successful formation of at least four different multi-county consortia that have organized a group purchase approach. This is realizing a variety of organizational benefits and cost savings.

The state’s new fiscal biennium
Governor Doyle’s Fiscal Year ’05-06 budget will be unveiled in early February. So what impact will it have on land information and GIS? I would say plenty!

Last September, the Wisconsin Land Information Board and Wisconsin Land Council submitted a required joint report to the Governor and Legislature recommending that no action be taken to remove the existing September 1, 2005 sunset on the Board and Council. By taking no action to remove the sunset, both bodies will be abolished as of September 1, 2005. I am sure that the governor’s budget will reflect this recommendation.

However, the report also called for the elimination of the September 1, 2005 sunset for the Wisconsin Land Information Program (WLIP). With the sunset clause on the WLIP removed, the basic foundational provisions of the program will continue, including the collection of real estate recording fees, and certain types of local grants.

The creation of a Geographic Information Officer (GIO) position within the Department of Administration was another major recommendation of the report. Without a Board to direct the WLIP, the GIO will be critical to future coordination efforts, particularly between state agencies. With DOA coordination, the GIS units of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation have been planning the roles and functions that both agencies might jointly perform as a GIS service center, particularly for other state agencies with no GIS capability. Although the concept has substantial merit, implementation still seems far away. Perhaps, a GIO will make this and other ideas become reality more quickly.

Along with the elimination of the WLIB and WLC, the governor’s budget will surely call for further reductions in state employees. This will undoubtedly affect state GIS operations in several agencies, just as it has during the current budget cycle.

Finally, work on the Wisconsin Land Information System (WLIS) Web-based portal concept to tie together data residing in various locations about the state is currently stalled. A WLIS pilot project has been completed by the WIDNR, but no work continues today in spite of the fact that there is still money remaining in this biennium to spend on this effort. Will the Governor’s budget in any way address WLIS with continued funding or a mandate to continue already begun work? I am not very optimistic that it will, given the current economic situation. A golden opportunity to make substantial gains on WLIS over the past two years has been largely lost. Hopefully, recent WLIA discussions with the DOA will be able to get this vital project moving again.

So, the bottom line – 2005 promises to be a year of continual change, hopefully with positive results. We’ll continue to report on the most significant events. Meanwhile, Happy New Year!