Senators: More transparency needed on geospatial data spending

Coinciding with Sunshine Week, two senators introduced a bill they hope will increase transparency on geospatial data.

“The federal government is the largest purchaser of geospatial data, but some very basic questions about how and where agencies are already investing in this data can’t be answered,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) who introduced the Geospatial Data Reform Act along with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

The bill would require agencies to report how much they spend on such data, as part of annual budget submissions to the White House.

Geospatial data includes everything from geographic location, to congressional district boundries, to road data. Agencies have used the data for national security, resource conservation and disaster response.

But a recent report from the Government Accountability Office found agencies don’t always consistently track or report on geospatial investments. The result is often duplicitive programs. Agencies estimate they spend billions on geospatial data, but these don’t include additional billions spent on satellites, GAO said.

Agencies have long struggled to improve coordination of geospatial data. The Office of Management and Budget established the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FDGC) in 1990 to help oversee geospatial data across government. Agencies were recommended to develop annual plans and report progress to the committee.

According to GAO, FDGC doesn’t have effective performance monitoring for geospatial records, and doesn’t adequately coordinate with state governments.

Warner and Hatch’s bill would designate OMB as chair of FDGC. The committee would also have to report every two years on agency performance related to geospatial data management.

“Geospatial data has endless possibilities for transforming both the private and public sectors,” Warner said.


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