Wisconsin Geospatial News

GIS in the economic stimulus plan?

Does GIS have a chance of becoming part of the proposed national economic stimulus plan? Over the past several weeks at least three different proposals have been put forth making the case for the importance of GIS in rebuilding of the national economy. However, at this point it doesn’t appear that specific mention of GIS, including the collection of geographic data, will be included in the plan soon to be presented to Congress for passage.

The “American Recovery and Investment Bill” documents appearing on Wisconsin Congressman Dave Obey’s Web site do not seem to include any mention of GIS, although there are many projects identified in the Bill that clearly have a geographic component. Congressman Obey currently holds a very influential position in the U.S. House of Representatives as Chair of the Committee on Appropriations that makes funding decisions on every discretionary program in the federal budget.

Since President Obama’s inauguration last week, the administration’s number one goal has been getting its massive national economic stimulus plan passed by Congress and signed into law. With large job cuts seemingly announced every day, the President’s immediate goal has been to take steps to stabilize the economy. The proposed $825 billion national economic stimulus plan is being promoted by many, including the President, as the answer to the nation’s economic woes.

ESRI and BAH first out of the gate

The first GIS proposal to hit the streets earlier this month is authored by Jack Dangermond, President and CEO of Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), and Anne Miglarese, the Chair of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee to the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), and an executive with Booz Allen Hamilton, a large technology-consulting firm.

Their proposal, entitled “Building a National GIS”  presents the argument that a publicly-accessible national digital map can be built quickly and efficiently based on the existing GIS infrastructure. The proposal says that making a GIS investment will speed economic recovery by producing jobs, and provide the country with a modern geospatial information system. This proposal suggests that four information themes (imagery, parcel data, elevation data, and wildlife corridor and habitat data) be developed and integrated.  It pegs the cost to do this at $1.2 billion over three years.

Reportedly, this proposal has been presented to selected members of congress, and it has picked up a fairly long string of endorsements including the National States Geographic Information Council, the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, the National Association of Counties, and the Wisconsin Land Information Association.  However, the proposal has not been without its critics.

But wait, there’s more…

The second recent document proposing a connection between GIS and national economic recovery is written by seven authors and collaborators with no corporate affiliations stated.  This proposal outlines a somewhat different approach than the first proposal.  It is much more conceptual in scope, stating that to coordinate projects and protect our environment, online access to information and services is required.  To do this, the authors propose it is time to build an information network combining online mapping with environmental data. They  dubbed their proposal as “National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) 2.0.” Unlike the first proposal, this approach does not propose any specific spending amount, but does claim that if implemented as the authors conceive, it will save the country billions of dollars a year, and create thousands of new jobs.

Big corporations offer their ideas

The third, and most recent ideas are presented in a paper titled, “A proposal for Invigorating the American Economy through Investment in the U.S. National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).” It lists five authors affiliated with large, recognizable corporations: Autodesk, Microsoft, Oracle, Google, and Intergraph. 

This proposal presents the case that investment in information and communication technology will have immediate fiscal impact with long-term economic growth. To realize this potential, the paper proposes to further develop of the NSDI by broadening its openness and interoperability. This will involve a two-pronged approach of data creation and a coordinated planning process of hosting and delivery.

The paper outlines required technical fundamentals, leadership requirements, and associated costs. In this area it is very much parallel to the first proposal (Dangermond and Miglarese) in that it suggests the rapid collection and processing of key datasets is crucial. The datasets listed include imagery, elevation, parcels, ecosystems, and 3-D views of structures. The price tag for the aforementioned data is given at $1 billion. Added to this is an additional $250 million for data infrastructure design and deployment.

What’s next?

While it’s unlikely that GIS, per se, will be included in any economic stimulus bill, a small contingent of folks in Washington continue to advocate for some inclusion of expanding the collection of spatial information. The House of Representatives may be voting on the Bill this week, followed by the Senate.  Following votes by both Congressional chambers, differences will have to be reconciled. Possibly within that upcoming timeframe, GIS will get its due recognition.