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H.R. 4233 - Geospatial Spending, Duplication & Land Inventory Management




Statement for the Record

Department of the Interior

before the

House Natural Resources Committee

Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources 

H.R. 4233, the Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act of 2012

May 3, 3012

Thank you for inviting the Department of the Interior to provide this statement for the record on H.R. 4233, the Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act.  The stated objectives of H.R. 4233 are to reduce duplication of Federally-managed geospatial data and to take full advantage of the expertise of the private sector.  The Department is actively pursuing these goals.  We oppose H.R. 4233 because it is inconsistent with and duplicates existing authorized activities and programs, includes definitions of geospatial information and activities that are overly broad, and is not adequately designed to achieve the stated goals of the bill.

The Department of the Interior plays a leading role in the Federal collection, maintenance, and management of geospatial data.  These activities are coordinated by the Federal Geospatial Data Committee (FGDC), which is housed at the USGS, co-chaired by leadership from the Department of the Interior and E-Government Office at the White House Office of Management and Budget, and includes the participation of thirty-one agencies.  The policy framework that guides these activities is found in OMB Circular A-16. For over two decades, the FGDC has worked to reduce duplication and increase the interoperability of Federally-sourced geospatial data. The FGDC has established common standards across the Federal Government, so that data collected by one agency can be used by another. The FGDC has also determined authoritative sources for a set of data themes, ensuring that one agency does not produce data already being produced by another. The new agency proposed in H.R. 4233, the National Geospatial Technology Administration (NGTA), would duplicate the existing objectives and efforts of the FGDC.

H.R. 4233 would substantially alter the activities of the Federal Government related to the collection and management of geospatial data, which include the location, boundaries, and ownership of land in the United States.  Title I would establish a new bureau in the Department: the NGTA.  This provision would transfer to the Administrator of the NGTA all geospatial functions vested by law within the Department of the Interior, within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Department of Commerce, and within the Department of Agriculture, with respect to National Forest System lands. This new bureau would be directed to establish a comprehensive database that would include a large variety of geospatial data from both public and commercial sources.  Title II would establish the National Geospatial Policy Commission (NGPC), a body of Federal and non-Federal stakeholders tasked with developing a plan for the management of the new geospatial database and identifying activities performed by Federal agencies that should be converted to performance by private geospatial firms.  Title III and Title IV concern the use of private contractors for the production of geospatial data. Title V would authorize a Federal geospatial research and development plan.

The nature of place-based information, or geospatial data, has evolved significantly in just the last few years.  Information that was once available only in printed form is now available on almost every mobile communications device on the market, and while the data were once produced by a cadre of experts such as cartographers, photogrammetrists, and GIS specialists, today geospatial data are often produced by everyday users through crowd sourcing and Web-based applications.  These changes are a byproduct of the revolutionary advances in information technology, which are affecting nearly every aspect of our lives. In particular, after the Global Positioning System was made available for civilian use in 2000, the availability of geospatial data increased exponentially.

Modern mapping applications developed in the private sector often rely on geospatial data from Federal sources. For example, much of the imagery available on Web-based mapping applications is procured through the Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Imagery Program. This imagery is used for agricultural monitoring by the Farm Service Agency, but it is also made available to the public free of charge, allowing private firms to design value-added applications using the imagery. The same is true for other forms of geospatial data, such as boundaries for ZIP codes or National Parks, center lines for streams and rivers, or land cover datasets. Finished maps produced by private firms are often made using data from Government sources.

H.R. 4233 states that its intention is to reduce duplication—yet what is sometimes perceived as duplication can, in fact, be data collection over the same geographic area but responding to significantly different end-user needs and specifications.  For example, the Department of Agriculture requires aerial imagery that is collected during the growing season, when there are leaves  on the trees; other applications, such as the detailed mapping of hydrography, requires aerial imagery that is collected in the winter, when the leaves have fallen and do not obscure the view of stream networks. The Department of Commerce collects geospatial data for a variety of purposes, including some identified in statute as hydrographic data for nautical charts.

We support a user-focused approach to the production and management of Federally-sourced geospatial data. OMB Circular A-16 follows such an approach.  Currently, under this policy framework, the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) advises the FGDC on effective standards-setting and cooperation among Federal and non-Federal holders of geospatial data and users of geospatial data. In 2004, the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified eleven recommendations to improve implementation of Circular A-16. To date, all eleven recommendations have been implemented.  Another example of the user-focused approach is the Geospatial Products and Services Contracts, administered by the USGS. These contracts, which are already used by Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies, help agencies leverage their resources to collect geospatial data that meet multiple needs.

There are also existing laws that support collaboration, such as the Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act (OCMIA, 33 USC 3501).  OCMIA establishes a program for developing a coordinated and comprehensive federal ocean and coastal mapping plan that includes cooperative mapping efforts, collaborative technology development, standards and protocols, and archiving of the data for public use. 

Under these and other authorities, Federal agencies have coordinated many of their geospatial acquisitions.  One example is elevation data collected by advanced sensor types such as Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors.  Five Federal agencies recently concluded a comprehensive study of the needs for and benefits of a nationwide LiDAR program.  A component of the study was to complete an exhaustive inventory of all LiDAR data collected for the United States to date.  The study concluded that less than 9% of the data was duplicated. Virtually all data were justified by operational necessity, such as in coastal areas where hurricanes and storm surges had altered the coastline, requiring new information to reflect the altered landscape. 

With respect to the specifics of H.R. 4233, the bill states that the Administrator of the NGTA, a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate, would report directly to the Secretary.   The USGS is a non-regulatory science agency; the NGTA would include a number of regulatory functions that could conflict with the existing mission of USGS and potentially compromise the unbiased nature of USGS science.  Further, H.R. 4233 directs the Administrator to represent the views and interests of private geospatial firms to the Federal Government if the policies or activities of a Federal agency affect private geospatial firms (Sec. 402(d)(2)), raising issues of ethics and conflict of interest. 

Section 103 outlines a variety of data types that would be collected in the National Geospatial Database, which include boundaries and ownership information on Federal, Tribal Trust, and non-Federal lands . Some of these are problematic.  For example, underground infrastructure is often privately owned, potentially implicating the interests of private property owners, or it may be sensitive for security reasons. Also, the terms "as-built drawings" and "service connection cards" are unclear.

Special comment should be made regarding private land title and cadastral data. Under the Land Ordinance Act of 1785 the Federal Government has maintained all records of land title originating from the public lands through the Public Land Survey System. To potentially transfer such records to private geospatial firms, as H.R. 4233 provides, could call into question the validity of private property rights across much of the United States. In addition, cadastral data, the information about parcel ownership, which is based on these original records, are managed by local governments. The cost of transferring that responsibility from the local level to the Federal level would be prohibitive.

Sec. 108 requires the head of every Federal agency – specifically including the Census Bureau – to provide to the Administrator all geospatial or address data held by the agency.  Potential transfer of this data to private geospatial firms under this bill raises significant concerns about privacy, among other issues.

The purposes of the NGPC also are not clear. To the extent that the structure of the Commission under Title II of the bill suggests it is intended to be a Federal Advisory Committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the Commission could not manage Federal activities because the FACA covers only those bodies that are "utilized solely for advisory functions." FACA sec. 9(b) (emphasis added).

We believe Title III is unnecessary. The President's 2012 National Space Policy directs the Government to "pursue potential opportunities for transferring routine, operational space functions to the commercial space sector."  We believe the language of this title would restrict the Government's ability to select the acquisition approach that best meets end-users' needs.  Title IV could lead to conflicts of interest for the NGTA and the NGPC.

Title V provides for the transfer to the private sector partner of an intellectual property right in the Federal geospatial data collected by the new bureau, NGTA.  This is troubling because the data produced by the Federal Government belongs to the American people, not to a private party.  Currently, the government has no intellectual property rights in the geospatial data it collects and publishes.  H.R. 4233 appears to create such a right and transfer it to a private party.  It is worth noting that this title would also have broad implications for Defense and Intelligence Community activities which warrant further consideration beyond the limited nature of this statement.

In conclusion, the Administration does not support H.R. 4233 because it would unnecessarily duplicate existing Government activities which already enable efficient use of taxpayer dollars for the collection and maintenance of geospatial data.