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The NGAC Challenges FGDC to Restructure, Use GSA Procurement Process

The National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) is recommending that the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) move the procurement process for geospatial technology under the auspices of the General Services Administration (GSA). Why? The NGAC has deep concerns about how well the FGDC has performed its statutory duties. This article provides information on the NGAC’s additional warnings and “barriers to success” for the FGDC.

At an October 2011 meeting, the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) discussed recommendations that the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) move the procurement process for geospatial technology under the auspices of the General Services Administration (GSA). Recognizing that the GSA has a “history of providing common solutions and services across the government,” the NGAC also recommended that a new initiative, Geographic Information Services (GIS) for the Nation (recognized by Congressional Research Service), “should combine the current FGDC support for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure with the functions of the Managing Partner for the Geospatial Platform.”

In a letter to the NGAC dated December 22, 2011, Anne Castle, chairperson of the FGDC and assistant secretary for Water and Science at the Department of Interior, revealed that “the General Accountability Office (GAO) is initiating an evaluation of Federal initiatives aimed at coordinating investments in geospatial data – specifically, activities coordinated by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and OMB [the Office of Management and Budget]. The evaluation is being conducted at the request of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.”

In its most recent findings, the NGAC expressed deep concern over how the FGDC was performing its statutory duties under the OMB A-16 Circular. The NGAC questioned whether the FGDC could “account for the costs of acquiring, coordinating, and managing geospatial information” and whether the FGDC is doing its job of “coordinating with the state and local entities that have an increasing stake in geospatial information.”

The NGAC pointed to a number of “barriers to success” for the FGDC, not the least of which was “political discord that inhibits development of new initiatives,” a “lack of interest in common data buys and/or licenses,” and an “absence of senior level commitment to the goals of the FGDC.” The NGAC hence suggested that “successful environments cannot be driven solely by top-down approaches” and that “unfunded mandates and supposedly one-size-fits-all solutions are not popular.”

Other barriers cited within its October report to the FGDC included these specific issues:

  • Lack of enforcement of OMB Circular A-16 responsibilities
  • Lack of federal government regulatory authority to acquire geospatial data from state, local and tribal partners
  • Legal constraints, such as Title 13, that inhibit data sharing between the Census Bureau and local partners
  • Poorly structured programs that do not recognize the value of geospatial data or linkages to the other programs (Broadband Mapping)
  • Lack of financial incentives to promote data creation partnerships such as Imagery for the Nation (IFTN), Transportation for the Nation (TFTN) or Parcels for the Nation (PFTN)

The NGAC recommended four basic approaches for development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI):

  • Adopt a funding formula that provides resources to all participants on a non-competitive basis, coupled with grants of sufficient size and duration to achieve expected outcomes.
  • Fund projects that are of a sufficient scale to provide well-designed empirical tests of the hypotheses underlying the NSDI goals, and allow for adequate documentation and dissemination of results.
  • Initiate future partnership programs by the FGDC conceived in the context of all relevant partnership programs; should be designed to augment and leverage them to achieve maximum impact.
  • Develop metrics that can be used to monitor long-term progress in the adoption of the principles and programs of the NSDI among agencies at all levels of government.

The NGAC believes the GeoPlatform development process provided an apt template for future public/private partnership ventures. It set an example of the synthesis of “vast information assets of the Federal, State, regional, local, and Tribal governments, the private sector, academia, and citizens to provide the on-the-ground situational awareness required to make wise decisions.”

In summary, the NGAC saw many areas where the FGDC has lacked coordination and success in fulfilling its primary mission. The committee expressed a need for change, specifically in the area of budgetary control. The October meeting summary stated, “The NGAC believes there is a need to reconfigure, focus, reposition, empower and authorize the FGDC as the national lead for developing, managing and assuring Geospatial Information Services for the Nation … These services are critical to support the development of information products required by the public sector, and form the basis for the Geospatial Platform and the implementation of A-16 Supplemental Guidance.” The NGAC will provide additional analysis on the matter in a report titled “Innovative Strategies for Geospatial Partnerships,” expected at the end of January 2012.

EDITOR’S UPDATE – January 4, 2012: Dr. David Cowen, co-chairman of the NGAC, wrote to me to provide additional clarification to this report in particular that some of the challenges facing the FDGC were noted in a report by the Congressional Research Service (pdf). His are comments are as follows:

  • The most important [clarifications] are that NGAC is still discussing the final recommendations that will be included in the innovative strategies report. The report will be discussed at the public meeting on January 12 and the final report with recommendations will be released shortly after the meeting.
  • The list of barriers is the working opinion of the subcommittee – it may be revised in the final report
  • In terms of quoting the Congressional Research service – we certainly thought that their observations are worth noting – I am sure the GAO has already read the CRS report.

Source Directionsmag