Geographic Information Systems: Challenges to Effective Data Sharing

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-06-10.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Subcommittee on Technology,
                             Information Policy, Intergovernmental
                             Relations and the Census, Committee on
                             Government Reform, House of Representatives
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT
Tuesday, June 10, 2003       GEOGRAPHIC
                             INFORMATION SYSTEMS
                             Challenges to Effective Data
                             Statement of Linda D. Koontz
                             Director, Information Management Issues

                                              June 10, 2003

                                              GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SYSTEMS
                                              Challenges to Effective Data Sharing
Highlights of GAO-03-874T, a testimony
before the Subcommittee on Technology,
Information Policy, Intergovernmental
Relations and the Census, Committee on
Government Reform, House of

Geographic information systems                For decades, the federal government has tried to reduce duplicative
(GIS) manipulate, analyze, and                geospatial data collection by coordinating GIS activities within and outside
graphically present an array of               the federal government. For example, in 1990, the Office of Management and
information associated with                   Budget established the Federal Geographic Data Committee to promote the
geographic locations, have been               coordinated use, sharing, and dissemination of geospatial data nationwide.
invaluable to all levels of
government. Their usefulness in
                                              In 1994, the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) program was
disaster response was recently                established by executive order to address the problem of the redundancy
demonstrated during the Space                 and incompatibility of geospatial information on a national basis. More
Shuttle Columbia recovery effort.             recently, Geospatial One-Stop, a component of NSDI, was initiated (see
GIS provided precise maps and                 below).
search grids to guide crews to the
debris that was strewn across 41              Although efforts to build the NSDI are progressing, achieving the vision of a
counties in Texas and Louisiana.              nationwide GIS network remains a formidable challenge. Developing
                                              standards that meet stakeholders’ needs remains a challenging and time-
The federal government has long               consuming task, and achieving full participation across governments in their
been attempting to develop an                 development has also been difficult.
integrated nationwide GIS network.
The information available through
such a network could significantly            Geospatial One-Stop is aimed at promoting coordinated geospatial data
enhance decision-making in myriad             collection and maintenance across all levels of government. Among its
public-service areas, including               objectives are (1) deploying an Internet portal for one-stop access to
emergency response, national                  geospatial data; (2) developing data standards; and (3) encouraging greater
security, law enforcement, health             coordination among federal, state, and local agencies. While these objectives
care, and the environment.                    are important, Geospatial One-Stop has focused on limited, near-term tasks
                                              and was not intended to fully address the longer-term challenges of
Among GAO’s objectives were to                implementing the NSDI. A much more substantial effort will be required to
describe the federal government’s             attain the broader vision of seamless integration of GIS data nationwide.
efforts to coordinate GIS activities,         Existing draft standards may need further revision, and more extensive
the long-standing challenges of
adopting and implementing federal
                                              coordination efforts may be required to ensure broad adoption at all levels of
GIS standards, and the role of                government. Further, the effort is likely to require a continuing effort over an
Geospatial One-Stop.                          extended period of time, due to the fact that significant investments have
                                              already been made in existing non-standard systems.

                                              Geospatial One-Stop Portal Concept


To view the full product, click on the link
For more information, contact Linda D.
Koontz at (202) 512-6240 or
             Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

             I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the Subcommittee’s hearing
             regarding the challenges of developing an integrated nationwide network
             of geographic information systems (GIS). A GIS is a system of computer
             software, hardware, and data used to manipulate, analyze, and graphically
             present a potentially wide array of information associated with geographic
             locations. GIS’s powerful ability to integrate different kinds of information
             about a physical location can lead to better-informed decisions about
             public investments in infrastructure and services—including national
             security, law enforcement, health care, and the environment—as well as a
             more effective and timely response in emergency situations. However,
             long-standing challenges to data sharing and integration need to be
             addressed before the benefits of geographic information systems can be
             fully realized.

             As requested, in my remarks today, I will discuss the many GIS activities
             under way throughout the federal government, the federal government’s
             efforts to coordinate these activities, and the long-standing challenges of
             adopting and implementing federal GIS standards. I will also discuss the
             role of Geospatial One-Stop, one of 25 high-profile e-government1
             initiatives sponsored by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). To
             supplement my remarks, I have included an attachment that lists examples
             of the numerous GIS activities led by various federal agencies.

             The primary function of a GIS is to link multiple sets of geospatial data and
Background   graphically display that information as maps with potentially many
             different layers of information. Assuming that all the information is at the
             same scale and has been formatted according to the same standards, users
             can potentially overlay spatial information about any number of specific
             topics to examine how the layers interrelate. Each layer of a GIS map
             represents a particular “theme” or feature, and one layer could be derived
             from a data source completely different from the other layers. For
             example, one theme could represent all the streets in a specified area.
             Another theme could correspond to all the buildings in the same area, and
             others could show vegetation or water resources. As long as standard

              E-Government or Electronic Government refers to the use of technology, particularly Web-
             based Internet applications, to enhance the access to and delivery of government
             information and services to citizens, business partners, employees, other agencies, and
             other entities.

             Page 2                                                                     GAO-03-874T
processes and formats have been arranged to facilitate integration, each of
these themes could be based on data originally collected and maintained
by a separate organization. Analyzing this layered information as an
integrated whole can significantly aid decision makers in considering
complex choices, such as where to locate a new Department of Motor
Vehicles building to best serve the greatest number of citizens. Figure 1
portrays the concept of data themes in GIS.

Figure 1: GIS Layers or “Themes”

The expansion of Internet connectivity in recent years has substantially
enhanced the potential value of GIS because now it is possible to locate
and harness data from many disparate GIS databases to develop very rich
analytical information on almost any topic that is associated with physical
locations. Data that were once collected and used only for a single
purpose could now have much broader applications. Further, the
community of GIS users has been broadened to include potentially anyone
with an Internet connection. For example, citizens can now use home
computers to obtain answers to specific questions about land use in their

Page 3                                                         GAO-03-874T
state or local jurisdiction. Commercial entrepreneurs can combine GIS
data about zoning and tax-incentive areas to determine what parts of a city
are best suited for establishing a new business.

Federal, state, and local government agencies are using GIS today to
provide vital services to their customers. For example, local fire
departments can use geographic information systems to determine the
quickest and most efficient route from a firehouse to a specific location,
taking into account changing traffic patterns that occur at various times of
day. Highway departments use GIS to identify intersections that have had
a significant number of personal injury accidents to determine needs for
improved traffic signaling or signage. GIS can also be an invaluable tool in
ensuring homeland security by facilitating preparedness, prevention,
detection, and recovery and response to terrorist attacks.

Many federal departments and agencies use GIS technology to help carry
out their primary missions. For example, the Department of Housing and
Urban Development (HUD) worked with the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) to develop E-MAPS, which combines information on HUD’s
community development and housing programs with EPA’s environmental
data. The program provides homeowners and prospective homebuyers
with ready access to detailed local information about environmental
hazards that otherwise would likely have been very difficult to obtain. In
another example, the Department of Health and Human Services uses GIS
technology to analyze data on population and topography (including
roads, streams, and land elevation), as well as information gathered from
residents. These data are used to track the spread of environmental
contamination through a community, to identify geographic areas of
particular health concern, and to identify susceptible populations, such as
children or the elderly.

The usefulness of GIS in disaster response was demonstrated recently in
connection with the Space Shuttle Columbia recovery effort. After the loss
of Columbia on February 1, 2003, debris was spread over at least 41
counties in Texas and Louisiana. Analysis of GIS data was critical to the
efficient recovery and documentation of that debris. The Texas state GIS
program provided authorities with precise maps and search grids to guide
field reconnaissance and collection crews. Officials in charge of the effort
used maps of debris fields combined with GIS data about the physical
terrain to carefully track every piece of debris found. This information not
only contributed to an efficient recovery effort but also may help experts
to refine theories about why Columbia perished.

Page 4                                                          GAO-03-874T
                     In developing this testimony, our objectives were to describe the many GIS
                     activities under way throughout the federal government and the federal
                     government’s efforts to coordinate these activities, the long-standing
                     challenges of adopting and implementing federal GIS standards, and the
                     role of Geospatial One-Stop. To address these objectives, we obtained
                     relevant documentation from the Department of the Interior and
                     interviewed Geospatial One-Stop project officials as well as
                     representatives from state agencies and private sector organizations
                     involved in GIS activities with the federal government. We also analyzed
                     the accomplishments and planned activities of the Geospatial One-Stop
                     initiative in light of identified challenges to geospatial data sharing. We
                     performed our work between May 2003 and June 2003, in accordance with
                     generally accepted auditing standards.

                     According to the Department of the Interior, about 80 percent of all
Many Federal         government information has a geospatial data component, such as an
Government GIS       address or other reference to a physical location.2 It is not surprising, then,
                     that a wide variety of geospatial data collection efforts are ongoing
Activities Overlap   throughout the federal government, each established for a different
                     purpose but often collecting and maintaining the same or similar
                     information. In fact, according to the 2001 initial business case for
                     Geospatial One-Stop, about 50 percent of the federal government’s
                     geospatial data investment is redundant.

                     For every GIS application, federal agencies must manage the geospatial
                     data that are at the heart of that application. In many cases, agencies
                     maintain the same data that are referenced to the same geographic
                     location. For example, both HUD and the Census Bureau maintain
                     essentially the same geospatial data regarding congressional districts, city
                     boundaries, railroads, interstate highways, and state highways. The two
                     agencies maintain separate GIS systems for storing and analyzing this

                     In many cases, agencies independently collect data that, while not
                     identical, is similar and potentially duplicative in many respects. For
                     example, both the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nuclear
                     Regulatory Commission (NRC) collect and analyze information regarding

                     Geospatial One-Stop, Office of Management and Budget Capital Asset Plan and
                     Business Case (Exhibit 300) (Jan. 27, 2003), p. 7.

                     Page 5                                                                GAO-03-874T
uranium-milling facilities, and they both cover the same geographic areas.
DOE concentrates on tracking the status of former uranium processing
sites, whereas NRC gathers and maintains information on current uranium
milling facilities in the same mid-western locations. In cases such as this,
significant efficiencies may be gained by coordinating the two collection

In other cases, data may be collected in different resolutions or with
different degrees of accuracy but still essentially cover the same theme
over the same geographic area. Local governments often possess the most
recent and highest resolution geographic data; however, these data often
are collected to serve specific missions and may be difficult to use for
other purposes. For instance, when the Forest Service created a national-
level GIS for the forest ecosystem, it was faced with reconciling data from
a variety of incompatible locally developed systems. Local agencies had
used a variety of standards for each forest and district. In assembling these
data into a unified, coherent database, the Forest Service had to adopt the
lowest-resolution format in order to maintain full coverage of all forests.
As a result, much of the higher-resolution content of the local data could
not be used. Much of the effort in building this system was spent
reconciling data sets to make them usable in an integrated database.

The biggest problem with collecting this duplicative geospatial data is its
cost. According to a recent study, up to 80 percent of GIS costs are related
to the collection and management of geospatial data.3 In 1993, OMB
performed a data call in which it estimated that $4.1 billion was spent
annually, at the federal level, on collection and management of
geographically referenced data. In addition, state and local governments
are estimated to spend twice that of the federal government on collection
and management of geographic referenced data.4

 Center for Technology in Government, Sharing the Costs, Sharing the Benefits: The New
York State GIS Cooperative Project (2001).
Office of Management and Budget, Geospatial One-Stop Capital Asset Plan and Business
Case (Exhibit 300) (Jan. 27, 2003).

Page 6                                                                   GAO-03-874T
                     The federal government has tried for years to reduce duplicative
Many Attempts Have   geospatial data collection by coordinating GIS activities both within and
Been Made to         outside the federal government. In 1953 the Bureau of the Budget first
                     issued its Circular A-16, encouraging expeditious surveying and mapping
Coordinate GIS       activities across all levels of government and avoidance of duplicative
Activities           efforts. More recently, the E-Government Act of 20025 directed the Office
                     of Management and Budget to coordinate the development of standard
                     protocols for sharing geographic information to reduce redundant data
                     collection and promote collaboration and the use of standards. Although
                     progress has been made over this 50-year span, much work still remains to
                     be done.

                     Over the past several decades we and others, such as the National
                     Research Council6 and the National Academy of Public Administration,7
                     have made a set of recommendations aimed at promoting the coordination
                     of GIS efforts and data. In 1969, we recommended that mapping by state
                     and local agencies under federal programs should be accomplished, where
                     appropriate, in a manner enabling such work to contribute to the national
                     mapping program.8 In 1982, we issued another report recommending
                     interagency coordination to prevent duplicative computer-mapping
                     programs.9 In response to this and other recommendations, OMB revised
                     Circular A-16 in 1990, to, among other things, establish a Federal
                     Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), chaired by the Department of the
                     Interior, to promote the coordinated use, sharing, and dissemination of
                     geospatial data nationwide. Building on that effort, a program was
                     established by Executive Order 12906 in 1994 to develop a National Spatial
                     Data Infrastructure (NSDI) to address the problem of the redundancy and
                     incompatibility of geospatial information collected by many different
                     organizations and stored and maintained at many different physical
                     locations. Figure 2 provides a federal GIS coordination timeline.

                     E-Government Act of 2002, P.L. 107-347 (Dec. 17, 2002).
                     National Research Council, Mapping Science Committee, Toward a Coordinated Spatial
                     Data Infrastructure for the Nation (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993).
                      National Academy of Public Administration, Geographic Information for the 21st
                     Century: Building a Strategy for the Nation (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 1998).
                      U.S. General Accounting Office, Opportunity for Savings and Better Service to Map Users
                     Through Improved Coordination of Federally Financed Mapping Activities, 759 Un317o
                     (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 17, 1969).
                     U.S. General Accounting Office, Duplicative Federal Computer-Mapping Programs: A
                     Growing Problem, GAO/RCED-83-19 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 22, 1982).

                     Page 7                                                                    GAO-03-874T
Figure 2: Federal GIS Coordination Timeline

                                        As a result of these federal geospatial coordination efforts, the federal
                                        government has begun to establish the NSDI through a number of
                                        component programs.10 These include the Geospatial Data Clearinghouse
                                        to promote data sharing on a national level, a collection of voluntary “I-
                                        Teams” to foster community-level data collection and sharing, a
                                        Cooperative Agreements Program to provide seed money for initiatives
                                        aimed at better data integration and use, and—most recently—the
                                        Geospatial One-Stop initiative, aimed at promoting coordination and
                                        alignment of geospatial data collection and maintenance across all levels
                                        of government. Table 1 gives more details about the components of the
                                        NSDI. I will discuss the Geospatial One-Stop initiative at greater length
                                        later in my remarks.

                                          The FGDC is responsible for coordinating all of these components.

                                        Page 8                                                                GAO-03-874T
Table 1: Components of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure

 Name                                     Description
 National Spatial Data Infrastructure    A structure of practices and relationships among data producers and users that facilitates
 (NSDI)                                  geospatial data sharing and use throughout government, the private and nonprofit sectors,
                                         and academia. As discussed below, key GIS initiatives within the NSDI, which are
                                         coordinated by the Federal Geographic Data Committee, include the Geospatial Data
                                         Clearinghouse, I-Teams, Cooperative Agreements Program, and Geospatial One-Stop.
     Geospatial Data Clearinghouse       A decentralized system of Internet servers containing field-level descriptions or metadata
                                         of available digital geospatial data. The clearinghouse allows individual agencies,
                                         consortia, and geographically defined communities to coordinate and promote the use of
                                         their available geospatial data.
     I-Teams                             Voluntary bodies of leaders representing all sectors of the geospatial community that meet
                                         in open forums to plan, steward, and implement the production, maintenance, and
                                         exchange of community information resources. The I-Team Initiative helps to address the
                                         institutional and financial barriers to development of the NSDI.
     Cooperative Agreements Program      Funds intended to provide seed money to engage organizations in building the NSDI
     funds                               through metadata implementation, training and outreach, and clearinghouse
                                         implementation of OpenGIS Web services.
     Geospatial One-Stop                 An initiative to promote coordination and alignment of geospatial data collection and
                                         maintenance among all levels of government by (1) developing a portal for seamless
                                         access to geospatial information, (2) providing standards and models for geospatial data,
                                         (3) creating an interactive index to geospatial data holdings at federal and nonfederal
                                         levels, and (4) encouraging greater coordination among federal, state, and local agencies
                                         about existing and planned geospatial data collections.
Source: GAO.

                                         Although efforts to build the NSDI are progressing, achieving the vision of
                                         a nationwide GIS network remains a formidable challenge.
                                         Notwithstanding federal attempts to promote interagency and
                                         intergovernmental collaboration, the difficulty in developing and
                                         implementing effective standards remains a barrier to effective data
                                         sharing and to achieving the level of integration that would lead to full
                                         development of the NSDI.

                                         Developing common geospatial standards to support vital public services
Developing and                           has proven to be a complex and time-consuming effort. The number of
Implementing GIS                         types of geospatial data and the complexity of those data make developing
                                         geospatial standards a daunting task. For example, 34 different broad
Standards Have Posed                     categories of geospatial data, called “data themes,” were identified in OMB
Long-Standing                            Circular A-16 as a necessary foundation for the NSDI. These basic themes
                                         relate to all types of services provided by the federal government—
Challenges                               including climate, flood hazards, federal land ownership, public health,
                                         soils, and transportation. Each of these themes, in turn, may have any
                                         number of subthemes. The transportation theme, for example, includes
                                         such divergent subthemes as road, railroad, air, transit, and waterway,
                                         each the domain of a different organization or group of organizations. For

                                         Page 9                                                                      GAO-03-874T
data associated with the NSDI’s themes and subthemes to be effectively
shared, standards must be developed that allow interoperability and
integration of the many disparate formats of data that are currently
collected for each theme and subtheme. Circular A-16 further identifies
seven of the themes as the core set of most commonly used data, called
“framework themes.”11 FGDC has been working to coordinate the
development of these themes as well as other standards since it was
established 13 years ago. Although FGDC has developed versions of
several of these standards, it has not attempted to finalize a complete set
of the seven framework standards. These framework standards would
define the simplest level of geographic data commonly used in most
geospatial data sets.

OMB Circular A-16 calls for a well-coordinated effort among federal, state,
local, and tribal governments, academic institutions, and the private sector
to build an effective NSDI.12 Yet in the capital asset plan for the Geospatial
One-Stop project published in January 2003, the Department of the Interior
noted that the risk was high that agencies would be unwilling to adopt
framework data standards. Given that most federal agencies—including
large agencies such as DOE, Justice, and Health and Human Services—
have not participated in the NSDI framework standards development
process, the risk is substantial that the proposed standards will not meet
their needs. In addition, agencies could be faced with a potentially
expensive effort at “migrating” to the new standard. Substantial
investments have already been made to independently develop geospatial
systems using formats and standards that meet the specific needs of the
agencies that developed them. The potential for agencies to continue to
deploy agency-specific, noninteroperable geospatial systems was another
high risk identified by Interior in its January 2003 Geospatial One-Stop

Many states and localities have established Web sites that provide a
variety of location-related information services, such as updated traffic
and transportation information, land ownership and tax records, and

 The seven framework themes are transportation, hydrography, government units,
geodetic control, elevation, digital ortho imagery, and cadastral (relating to land
 OMB Circular A-16, Coordination of Geographic Information and Related Spatial Data
Activities, Revised August 19, 2002. The Circular applies to any executive agency that
collects, produces, acquires, maintains, distributes, uses, or preserves paper maps or digital
spatial data to fulfill its mission.

Page 10                                                                        GAO-03-874T
                        information on housing for the elderly. Existing commercial products
                        using a variety of formats are already meeting the needs of the states and
                        localities in providing this information. Hence these organizations are
                        likely to have little incentive to adopt potentially incompatible federal
                        standards that could require substantial new investments. According to
                        Arizona’s state cartographer, many local governments currently do not
                        comply with existing FGDC standards because most of their GIS
                        applications were created primarily to meet their internal needs, with little
                        concern for data sharing with federal systems.

                        Geospatial One-Stop is intended to accelerate the development and
Geospatial One-Stop’s   implementation of the NSDI by promoting coordination and alignment of
Objectives Are          geospatial data collection and maintenance across all levels of
                        government. Specifically, its objectives include (1) deploying an Internet
Limited                 portal for one-stop access to geospatial data as an extension to the NSDI
                        Clearinghouse network (see figure 3); (2) developing data standards for
                        the seven NSDI framework data themes; (3) creating an inventory of
                        federal data holdings related to the seven framework themes; and (4)
                        encouraging greater coordination among federal, state, and local agencies
                        about existing and planned geospatial data collection projects.

                        Figure 3: Geospatial One-Stop Portal Concept

                        Page 11                                                          GAO-03-874T
•   Deploying an Internet portal. This task was to design and implement an
    Internet portal to serve as a one-stop interface for users seeking links to
    geospatial data that were already available and cataloged in the NSDI
    clearinghouse. A demonstration version of the portal has been developed,
    and the first publicly available version is expected to be implemented by
    the end of June 2003. Plans are to begin adding new data to the portal, now
    that it has been developed. Project officials are also considering future
    enhancements to the functionality of the portal; however, no milestones
    have been set for any specific enhancements.

•   Developing data standards. The specific objective was to draft the seven
    NSDI framework standards. Drafts of these seven framework standards, as
    well as five transportation subthemes and a base standard have now been
    completed. Project officials plan to submit these drafts to the American
    National Standards Institute by the end of September 2003.

•   Creating an inventory of federal data holdings. To meet this objective,
    metadata13 for all relevant federal data sets must first be collected and
    made available in the NSDI Clearinghouse. Users need metadata to
    determine whether a data set is useful for their purposes and to be aware
    of any special stipulations about processing and interpreting the data.
    Accordingly, OMB Circular A-11 required that all federal data sets with a
    replacement value exceeding $1 million be documented in FGDC metadata
    and the metadata be accessible and searchable in the NSDI Clearinghouse
    network by February 10, 2003.

•   Encouraging greater coordination among federal, state, and local
    agencies. To support this objective, a process has been established to
    coordinate Geospatial One-Stop’s activities across these various
    government levels. According to the project’s cooperating states
    coordinator, eight federal agencies are participating in developing and
    implementing the initiative. In addition, an intergovernmental board of
    directors was established with two-thirds of the vote held by state, local
    and tribal representatives. The purpose of the board was to help ensure
    collaboration among potential stakeholders from all government sectors.
    According to the National States Geographic Information Council’s
    (NSGIC) representative, state, county, and municipal levels of government

     Metadata is information describing the content, quality, condition, and other
    characteristics of data.

    Page 12                                                                      GAO-03-874T
are well represented and play a useful role in providing alternative views
about the direction of the initiative.14

While Geospatial One-Stop’s objectives are important, they do not
represent a significantly new or different approach to the GIS integration
problem that the government has been struggling with for more than a
decade. First, while developing and implementing an Internet portal may
offer users additional functionality over the existing Clearinghouse, unless
the underlying geospatial data offered through the portal are standardized
across data providers, the additional functionality offered by the portal
may be of limited value.

Second, the objective of finalizing the seven framework standards, while
important, is limited. As I discussed earlier, a total of 34 data themes was
identified in OMB Circular A-16 as a necessary foundation for the NSDI.
Geospatial One-Stop’s objectives do not include plans to address any of
the remaining 27 themes. Before the broader vision of a unified nationwide
network of geospatial data and systems can be achieved, standards for all
of NSDI’s foundation data themes will need to be established. Further,
definition of the standards is only the first step in gaining their benefits;
Geospatial One-Stop has not yet addressed the challenge of gaining
consistent implementation of the standards across government, which I
have already discussed. In order to attain the broader vision of seamless
integration of GIS data on a nationwide basis, a longer-term effort will be

Third, creating a complete and useful inventory of federal data holdings
will require much more substantial work than is planned through the
Geospatial One-Stop initiative. For example, according to the FGDC
Metadata Coordinator, the extent to which agencies have posted metadata
about their geospatial data sets is unknown. In addition, obtaining
complete metadata from all federal sources is likely to be very challenging.
If the metadata were not created when the data were originally captured,
they could be expensive and time-consuming to generate after the fact,
and agencies may not have resources available for the effort. Accordingly,
unless Geospatial One-Stop devotes more resources to working with

 The National States Geographic Information Council is an organization of states that
promotes the adoption and use of geographic information technologies, including the NSDI
and GOS. Members include state GIS coordinators, senior state GIS managers, and
representatives from federal agencies, local government, the private sector, academia and
other professional organizations.

Page 13                                                                    GAO-03-874T
agencies on generating and posting metadata, its objective of creating an
inventory of federal data holdings may be delayed.

Finally, despite the creation of the Board of Directors, questions have been
raised about the breadth of participation in Geospatial One-Stop. The chair
of the board acknowledged that the small group of nonfederal
representatives on the board may not be able to speak for all the states
and thousands of local governments. It is also not known how well these
representatives are disseminating information about the initiative and
encouraging collaboration among the states and localities that are not
directly represented. As with the initiative’s other objectives, limited
actions have been taken aimed at achieving near-term results that only
partially address the broader objective of building the NSDI. To fully
achieve that broader objective, Geospatial One-Stop will need to better
ensure that it has coordinated with all relevant governmental entities and
that they understand the initiative and their role in it.

In summary, a coordinated nationwide network of geographic information
systems offers many opportunities to better serve the public, make
government more efficient and effective, and reduce costs. As a
sophisticated decision making tool, GIS provides the capability to
strengthen national security, enhance law enforcement, increase public
health, and protect the environment. However, to date, the potential of GIS
has not been fully realized. While steps have been taken to improve the
coordination of government GIS efforts, much more work still needs to be
done to round out a comprehensive set of standards and to ensure that
they are being broadly applied. Geospatial One-Stop, in particular, while
addressing useful near-term tasks, has not focused on the need for a
longer-term strategy for facing the challenges of implementing the NSDI.

While it may be appropriate for many systems, especially at the state and
local level, to retain non-standard approaches to geospatial data collection
and analysis, priority should now be given to ensuring that the federal
government promotes common GIS standards wherever practicable,
facilitates participation by all stakeholders, and as a result reduces
redundant systems and data collection efforts. Adoption of a core set of
framework standards by the GIS community should lay the groundwork
for achieving the goals of the NSDI. However, additional work may be
needed. Existing draft standards may need revision to accommodate the
needs of major federal agency users, and more extensive coordination
efforts may be required to ensure broad adoption at all levels of
government. Further, the effort is likely to require a continuing effort over

Page 14                                                          GAO-03-874T
                   an extended period of time, due to the fact that significant investments
                   have already been made in existing non-standard systems, and the task of
                   replacing those systems and migrating their data to new standards cannot
                   be accomplished overnight. Nevertheless, we believe that until these
                   challenges are addressed, the goal of a single, coordinated, nationwide
                   system of geospatial data will remain out of reach.

                   Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer
                   any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have at
                   this time.

                   If you should have any questions about this testimony, please contact me
Contact and        at (202) 512-6240 or via E-mail at koontzl@gao.gov. Other major
Acknowledgements   contributors to this testimony included Shannin Addison, John de Ferrari,
                   Sophia Harrison, and Elizabeth Roach.

                   Page 15                                                       GAO-03-874T
Attachment I: Examples of Federal
Geographic Information System (GIS)
Agency                                Description
Natural Resources Conservation        Geospatial Data Gateway provides easy and consistent access to natural resource data by
Service (Department of Agriculture)   geographic area such as county or state. Users can search for data by theme, such as digital
                                      ortho imagery, digital elevation models, or soils.
National Cartography and              NCGC Internet Mapping offers Web access to view samples of hydrography, digital
Geospatial Center (Department of      orthophotography, digital topographic data, and other integrated data layers.
Fort Sill (Department of the Army)  Integrated Training Area Management GIS program provides training area maps, contour
                                    maps, and environmental coordination maps at a desired scale to installation personnel for use
                                    in management and training activities.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric    NOAA makes extensive use of a GIS to store the large quantity of data it collects. For
Administration (Department of       example, the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and the Alaska Fisheries Science
Commerce)                           Center collect a wealth of data about the physical and biological characteristics of the Bering
                                    Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, which are then stored in a GIS.
U.S. Census Bureau (Department of Provides online maps based on Census data that can be manipulated in many different ways.
National Aeronautical and Space     Shuttle Radar Topography Mission employs a specially modified radar system to capture the
Administration & National Imagery   elevation data, synthetic aperture radar, and single-pass radar interferometry. The objective of
and Mapping Agency (Department      this project is to produce digital topographic data for 80% of the Earth’s land surface.
of Defense)
National Imagery and Mapping        Provides timely, accurate, global aeronautical, topographical, and maritime, geospatial
Agency (Department of Defense)      information in support of national security objectives.
National Renewable Energy           GIS site provides dynamically generated maps of renewable energy resources that determine
Laboratory (Department of Energy) which energy technologies are viable solutions in the United States. These maps include GIS
                                    Clean Cities Map, Wind Map, Transportation Technologies Map, Map of Indian Lands, Solar
                                    Maps, and Federal Energy Management Program Maps.
Los Alamos National Laboratory      GISLab supplies geospatial information for internal and external users of geospatial data.
(Department of Energy)              Current projects include fire-related spatial data, floodplain mapping and hydrological
                                    modeling, field mapping for forest management, and mesoscale climate change modeling.
Centers for Disease Control and     Uses GIS to provide maps and data on public health issues in the United States.
Prevention (Department of Health
and Human Services)
Federal Emergency Management        Provides a full range of GIS services to all FEMA program offices which include storm tracking
Agency (Department of Homeland      and damage prediction maps, remote sensing maps, maps of federally declared counties in an
Security)                           affected state, basic census demographics about an affected area by county and census
                                    block, street locations, and summaries of teleregistered and service center applicants, housing
                                    inspection numbers, Help-line calls, disaster unemployment claims, Small Business
                                    Administration applicants, etc.
Department of Housing and Urban     E- Maps combines information on HUD’s community development and housing programs with
Development & the Environmental     EPA’s environmental data to provide location, type, and performance of HUD-funded activities
Protection Agency                   in every neighborhood across the country and select EPA information on brownfields,
                                    hazardous wastes, air pollution and waste water discharges.
US Geological Survey (USGS)         Provides a site that serves as a node of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure for finding and
(Department of the Interior)        accessing USGS spatial data related to hydrography.
Bureau of Land Management           Uses GIS to store and analyze public land and administrative jurisdiction information.
(Department of the Interior)
U.S. Forest Service (Department of Uses GIS to provide information on vegetation, water, fire, and soil for specified forests.
National Park Service (Department   Strives to have a comprehensive automated information system for each national park that will
of the Interior)                    integrate spatial (geographic) and tabular data from a variety of sources to enable modeling of
                                    real and theoretical situations for managing all park resources.
Justice Programs Office for Victims Uses GIS to map crime victim services.
of Crime (Department of Justice)

                                           Page 16                                                                      GAO-03-874T
 Agency                          Description
 Volpe National Transportation   Uses GIS to identify data such as county boundaries, roadways, and railroads, measure
 Systems Center (Department of   ambient noise levels, search for locations such as historic beacon sites and environmental
 Transportation)                 data.
 The Environmental Protection    The EPA provides a wide variety of spatial data such as information regarding air, water, land,
 Agency                          deposition, emissions, climate, sensitive resources, and demographics to support
                                 environmental analysis and uses GIS to aid decision-making.
 Tennessee Valley Authority      Provides an interactive map of the entire TVA power system, a network of reservoirs and
                                 power plants.

                                      Page 17                                                                      GAO-03-874T
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