Rapid access to data and information is crucial to the economic, environmental, and social well-being of our global society. It is generally accepted that in the early 1960s the United States was moving towards being an information society. This information society depends on spatial (geographic) data and information. Today an ever increasing volume of these spatially referenced data are being produced, stored, transferred, manipulated, and analyzed in digital form. Until now, maps in analog form have been a mainstay of a wide variety of applications and decision making. This is changing as more data and information on a wider variety of topics or themes (e.g., population, hydrology, agriculture, climate, and soils) become available in digital format.
To service those who need digital data, new digital products are appearing with greater frequency, increasing quantities of spatially referenced data. With this increased production comes the potential for substantial duplication of effort or the underutilization of valuable information that may have been created at considerable cost and effort.
The scope of spatial data can be enormous, and spatial data can be important components of a wide variety of scientific, technical, and social disciplines and applications. In the context of this study the Mapping Science Committee focused its efforts on the generic issues of spatial data management, collection, and use, particularly in geographic information systems and other similar methods of analyses.
A major challenge over the next decade will be to enhance the accessibility, communication, and use of spatially referenced data to sup
port a wide variety of decisions at all levels of society. By creating an effective, efficient, and widely accessible ''information highway"—the backbone of a robust National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI)—data could be readily transported and easily integrated both horizontally (e.g., across environmental, economic, and institutional data bases) and vertically (e.g., from local to national and eventually to global levels). The NSDI could provide transparent access to myriad data bases for countless applications (e.g., facility management, real estate transactions, taxation, land-use planning, transportation, emergency services, environmental assessment and monitoring, and research). Work on these applications occurs in schools, offices, and homes nationwide. Furthermore, a robust NSDI will create new value-added services and market opportunities in emerging spatial information industries.
The National Spatial Data Infrastructure is the means to assemble geographic information that describes the arrangement and attributes of features and phenomena on the Earth. The infrastructure includes the materials, technology, and people necessary to acquire, process, store, and distribute such information to meet a wide variety of needs.
We must emphasize that a national spatial data infrastructure exists. It is an ad hoc affair because, until very recently, no one conceived of it or defined it as a coherent entity, and indeed it has not been very coherent or coordinated. It is not the task of the Mapping Science Committee (MSC) to create a national spatial data infrastructure. We want merely to point out its existence, identify its components and characteristics, assess the efficiency with which it functions to meet national needs (from local to federal), and finally make recommendations that might make it more useful, more economical, better coordinated, and robust. Several investigators have shown that investments in spatial data technologies are normally repaid by the long-term benefits and that greater efficiencies are realized. In addition, there could be a significant reduction in the cost of operation of geographic information systems (GIS) if existing data were shared, thus reducing duplication of efforts of data collection. The committee maintains that improvements in the national spatial data infrastructure are critical to the maintenance of a competitive position for the United States in an increasingly international economic arena.
Over the past decade researchers in government, private industry, and academia began to appreciate the technical and institutional difficulties in creating distributed networks of spatial data bases at all levels of government and society. Many technical problems have been solved, but most
networks in place today are still at a primitive stage of development and involve only a limited number of organizations and data types. Even when the number and the size of data bases involved in a given network are relatively small, the coordination and cooperation required for data sharing have often been hard to obtain. Policy issues such as levels of incentives, mandates, access, pricing, privacy, and liability have only recently begun to be addressed.
The nations need to access spatial data and information is growing rapidly. Geographic referencing is needed in areas such as health, education, and social welfare, where a variety of information collected from many sources is used to track problems and identify trends. Perhaps, the most rapidly growing requirements for spatial data and information is currently in environmental management. To achieve such goals as sustainable economic development and protection of sensitive natural resources (e.g., wetlands), land managers need to know what information exists, how to obtain it, and how it can be merged with information from other sources. New technologies (e.g., GIS, remote sensing, spatial modeling, and artificial intelligence) provide the capability to meet these and other needs. However, unless the National Spatial Data Infrastructure is robust and the spatial data bases, policies, and standards are in place to facilitate the access and use of spatial data nationally, opportunities in areas from environment to development will be lost.
An enormous amount of resources is expended annually in spatial data systems, data collection, and manipulation. The annual amount is difficult to quantify. Several marketing firms have estimated some of the worldwide expenditures: roughly, there are annual expenditures in related software sales of about $600 million and hardware sales of about $1,300 million in 1992. From the collective experience of many spatial data system implementations, software and hardware expenses are typically much less than 20 percent of the total costs. If this is true, then the annual expenditures for spatial data collection, manipulation, and the institutions involved are on the order of $8 to $10 billion, and may be significantly more.
The question addressed by this study is: What could be done better or more efficiently if the content, accuracy, organization, and control of spatial data were different? In reviewing the spatial data activities of a
variety of federal agencies, the MSC identified several general issues and impediments that need to be resolved to build a more robust NSDI. Although most issues focus on federal activities, they are parallel to those that exist in state and local governments and the private sector. These issues are discussed in greater depth in Chapter 4.
ISSUE 1: There is no agreed-upon national vision of the NSDI nor is there an apparatus to implement it. Consequently, there is no national policy covering spatial data nor is there a national organization or agency with the charter, authority, and vision to provide leadership of the nation's spatial data collection, use, and exchange.
ISSUE 2: Because of the lack of central oversight, there appears to be extensive overlap and duplication in spatial data collection at the federal level. Overlap in data collection also appears to occur between federal and state agencies, and among state, local, and private sector organizations, all at a significant cost to the public. These institutions are collecting spatial data at many scales, levels of accuracy, levels of detail, and categories of data, making the sharing of spatial data very difficult (if not impossible).
ISSUE 3: There are no current mechanisms that allow identification of what spatial data have been collected, where the data are stored, who controls the access to the data, the content of the data, and the data coverage (e.g., scale, data density).
ISSUE 4: Although a Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) for spatial data transfer has been approved, profiles for implementing this standard for the exchange of spatial data between federal agencies have yet to be developed. Moreover, standard activities need to be expanded beyond transfer standards to include more specific measures and standards of content, quality, currency, and performance of various components of the NSDI. As a corollary, there is no agreed-upon representation of "base data" for small-, medium-, and large-scale spatial data products.
ISSUE 5: There are major impediments to, and few workable incentives for, the sharing of spatial data among the federal, state, and local organizations.
The committee studied two broad areas of intense spatial data activity: urban fabric (Chapter 5) and wetlands (Chapter 6 and Appendix B). In particular, our study of the relationship of wetlands and the spatial data that describe them yielded a myriad of problems that might be helpful in addressing similar complex environmental issues of national interest, for example, the geographic distribution of endangered species or the monitoring of biodiverse lands. The pervasiveness of these issues is apparent in both the urban fabric and wetlands examples.
In response to the above issues and others discussed within in the report, we offer a series of recommendations intended to strengthen the NSDI and make it more robust. That is not to say that additional efforts should not be pursued and encouraged. These recommendations are discussed in detail in Chapter 9.
Effective national policies, strategies, and organizational structures need to be established at the federal level for the integration or national spatial data collection, use, and distribution.
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, the charter and programs of the FGDC need to be strengthened 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.
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.
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.
This country has a tradition of localized control in the public sector and a belief in the power of free market forces operating in the private sector to best serve the national interest. In an era of instantaneous nationwide and worldwide transmission of information, compartmentalization of spatial data collection and management may no longer make sense as it has in the past. Survival in an increasingly global economy, dominated by ever larger private-public sector coalitions in countries outside the United States, may be possible only if commitments are made in this country to a national policy for increased information development and sharing.