1. Effective national policies, strategies, and organizational structures need to be established at the federal level for the integration of national spatial data collection, use, and distribution.
Experience has proven that certain data are required by every critical national program, for example, environmental cleanup, urban development, disaster relief, health care and disease control, industrial development, and transportation control and expansion. Lack of quality spatial data remains an impediment to industry and government efforts to address these critical national issues. Therefore, national policy goals should denote the concept of an NSDI as well as a strategy, and a time table for implementation must be set in motion.
The functions of an information organization, wherever assigned, should be (1) coordination of data collection activities, that is, to ensure quality data in standard formats and eliminate costly duplication of data collection; (2) development and coordination of standards; (3) assurance that data are easily accessible to the public through a catalog (or protocols for a distributed, networked catalog) of the data, including metadata or data about data; and (4) definition of incentives for a data donor/sharing program.
When these considerations are viewed in the context of the information age, maintaining national competitiveness in certain technologies, and the oft-stated desire to reduce bureaucracy, the need for a high level government-wide focus on spatial data is obvious. In our opinion this focus can best be accomplished by a government-wide reorganization. However, this has been attempted at periodic intervals and has failed. Pressures in the marketplace and public demands for better utilization of our informational resources make this option worthy of reconsideration.
Other options include an independent information agency, but that too is probably impractical. Other organizational possibilities are government-owned corporations such as the Tennessee Valley Authority or a council. These are also difficult to establish. The most practical solution, although not our choice in the best of all worlds, would be to strengthen or augment programs in existing agencies or departments.
Although most of the civilian mapping authority has traditionally been associated with agencies within the Department of the Interior, we assert that an equally acceptable site for a spatial information authority would be within the Department of Commerce. The Department of Commerce should be considered as a possible location for the NSDI authority both because of the important contributions that the private sector will make to the infrastructure and because of the implications for economic development and international competitiveness associated with the NSDI. Within Commerce, the Bureau of the Census has major responsibilities in collecting and analyzing a wide variety of information that is spatially referenced and created the TIGER spatial data set, which was designed for the 1990 census. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been involved in the SDTS process and other standard setting activities; standards are an important part of their mandate. Also within Commerce, the NOAA has significant data collection functions housed within the National Ocean Service and large data centers within the National Environmental Satellite and Data and Information Services. The vast majority of spatial data that are collected within the United States have either economic or environmental uses, which also makes the Department of Commerce a logical home for an information-based authority. In either case, this program deserves priority consideration at the cabinet level and requires the backing of legislation specifying required funds and objectives.
2. The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), which operates under the aegis of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), should continue to be the working body of the agencies to coordinate the interagency program as defined in OMB Circular A-16. However, strengthening the charter and programs of the FGDC are needed to
expand the development and speed the creation and implementation of standards (content, quality, performance, and exchange), procedures, and specifications for spatially referenced digital data, and
create a series of incentives, particularly among federal agencies, that would maximize the sharing of spatial data and minimize the redundancy of spatial data collection.
Although the Spatial Data Transfer Standard (SDTS) has become a FIPS (FIPS-173), the fact remains that there is no common data exchange mechanism in the federal government. Further effort required includes the development of a variety of implementations of the SDTS and its extension and generalization to accommodate those essential data elements desired by data users. It is increasingly important to spatial data users to be able to communicate among various vendors' systems, and this interchange is possible only through the use of sophisticated and complete data transfer standards. The leadership and participation of the FGDC will continue to be important in establishing and implementing standards throughout the federal government and underscore the criticality of sharing and integrating digital data to meet national needs.
The incentive to share spatial data for public use will in part need to be driven by a public sense of responsibility and a recognition that in many instances the beneficiaries of sharing will be those who allow their data to be shared because they in turn will be able to reduce their costs by avoiding the collection of redundant and duplicate information. Government agencies have little incentive to incur the incremental expense of adhering to standards and coordinating such activities with other agencies when undertaking a spatial data generation program. There needs to be incentives to promote sharing and coordination of spatial data activities.
In fulfillment of the FGDC's mission, the following specific actions within this recommendation include:
The FGDC should be empowered to help ensure that proposals to generate spatial data do not duplicate data in existing data bases that could be processed to accepted standards to satisfy the proposed purpose.
The OMB should work with the FGDC to increase the budget planning allowance for each FGDC member agency as a means for obtaining funding to ensure compliance with national spatial data standards and minimize duplication of effort, implement the SDTS federal profile consistently across the federal government, and ensure SDTS library services to all users (federal, state, local, and private).
To execute its mission effectively, the FGDC should include staff functions for lead agencies for a specific data type; assist with cataloging
of federal spatial data bases; verify that data bases are maintained and updated; provide liaison with state, local, and private agencies that either generate or use data of a specific category; and begin establishing the National Geographic Data System.
The FGDC should consider establishing an additional subcommittee on national cooperative digital land bases. The subcommittee should be charged with developing within a 2-year period a plan and program for the development and maintenance of national cooperative digital land bases. Representation on the subcommittee should include the diverse interests found within all levels of government.
The FGDC should evaluate the potential benefits of amalgamation and augmentation of the three independent street centerline spatial data base (SCSD) efforts now under way within the federal government. Substantial redundancies can be avoided by combining the contents of TIGER, ZIP + 4, and the transportation layer of the 1:24,000 DLGs into one integrated data base and establishing ways for other organizations to attach specific attributes to a centralized resource under constant maintenance.
An institutional and/or organizational structure should be developed to focus and encourage the many local initiatives for improvements in TIGER, ZIP + 4, and DLG data sets. A mechanism needs to be established to accept enhancements to the SCSD while maintaining specified accuracy standards.
The FGDC, through its Subcommittee on Wetlands, needs to reconcile the definitional and technical issues that impede our nation's ability to efficiently and effectively map, assess, monitor, and automate wetlands information.
3. Procedures should be established to foster ready access to information describing spatial data available within government and the private sector through existing networks, thereby providing on-line access by the public in the form of directories and catalogs. Information dissemination by federal agencies is included in the proposed revisions to OMB Circular A-130 (Federal Register, 57(83), p. 18300), which states: ''Agencies shall maintain and implement a management system for all information products which shall, at a minimum . . . (c) Establish and maintain inventories of all agency information products; (d) Develop such other aids to locating information products disseminated by the agency, including catalogs and directories . . .." Participation of nonfederal
governmental agencies and the private sector would be voluntary (see Chapter 7 for discussion of a spatial data sharing program).
An increasingly important class of information is metadata, which describe or annotate in some way the characteristics of the data. Examples of metadata might be how to access data, their ancestry, location, quality, validity, and accuracy. Directories and catalogs may represent both metadata and information. Such directories will become one othe gateway mechanisms for information access.
Consideration should be given to embedding the metadata file descriptor in the transfer standard. The development of the metadata standard will enable the creation of a distributed data base that can be accessed and searched by users seeking particular types of information. This metadata base may also be used to determine where there may be data gaps or duplication in any public national data base.
Capabilities for accessing and searching multiple data directories in diverse locations over computer networks (e.g., NREN or Internet) are being developed. These capabilities enable the stewardship of federal spatial data bases to remain with the originating (or lead) agency as defined in OMB Circular A-16 while still making the metadata, and ultimately the data per se, available. These network systems mean that one agency does not have to build a centralized catalog system while continually trying to coax other agencies to submit their metadata in a timely manner. With the adoption of standards and protocols (e.g., Z39.50) and acceptance of the distributive network concept, the first steps to a cooperative spatial data infrastructure will be in place.
In this environment it may be helpful if the federal government adopt a general statement of policy that spatial data created by any federal agency be made available in accordance with standards. To ensure compliance, this policy should be made a part of each agency's annual appropriations. The benefit of the standardization of data among all governmental agencies (federal, state, and local) and the private sector is such that this incremental cost will be recovered to the federal treasury over time as direct savings on government programs and in increased efficiency in the private realm.
4. A spatial data sharing program should be established to enrich national spatial data coverage, minimize redundant data collection at all levels, and create new opportunities for the use of spatial data throughout the nation. Specific funding and budgetary cross-cutting responsibilities of federal agencies should be identified by the OMB,
and the FGDC should coordinate the cross-cutting aspects of the program.
The spatial data sharing program should enable digital spatial data collected by nonfederal institutions (e.g., state and local governments and the private sector) to be integrated into the national spatial data coverage. The program would reduce data collection redundancies (and thus costs) throughout the nation as a whole while improving the currency of the data. To be successful, the spatial data sharing program needs to have real benefits and incentives for both the donors and recipients of the data.
As envisioned, incentives for donors to submit their data to be considered in the national base would be threefold. First, a portion of the costs of data collection might be rebated to the collector, the amount would be coordinated and negotiated by the state-level advisor with the federal agency; if the data are not yet collected, then work-or cost-sharing arrangements might be effected. Second, the donors would have the assurance that the accuracy of the data they collected (or had contractors collect) meets the accepted national standards and has been subjected to an independent QA/QC analysis. Third, it also provides the mechanism for the broad national distribution of these and other data in addition to automatic updates of the data when future revisions are made from other donor sources. Crucial to the development of incentives is an acceptance of the concept that a more efficient, more robust, more useful NSDI can exist and that it should replace the highly fragmented, highly redundant, often frustratingly inadequate, ad hoe infrastructure that exists today.