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Congressional Hearing Highlights Need for "Bold, Decisive Action" to Improve Federal Geospatial Coordination

July 27, 2009
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Washington, DC - "Bold, decisive action is needed to eliminate the extraordinary waste, duplication and inefficiency in the Federal government's geospatial activities, the lack of a strong partnerships in Federal agencies' relationship with State and Local government, and the insidious extent to which there continues to be unfair government competition with the private sector," John Palatiello, MAPPS Executive Director, told a Congressional Subcommittee Thursday, July 23. Two representatives of MAPPS (, the association for private geospatial firms, Palatiello and Susan Marlow, President of Smart Data Strategies, Inc. (Franklin, TN), were among the witnesses who testified before the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing on "Federal Geospatial Data Management."

The hearing was called to evaluate the Federal government's current coordination and management structure for geospatial activities. The Subcommittee has oversight responsibility for USGS, which is the home of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) staff. Nine members of Congress attended the hearing including: Subcommittee Chairman Jim Costa (D-CA), Subcommittee Ranking Member Doug Lamborn (R-CO), and fellow Representatives Niki Tsongas (D-MA), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Gregorio Sablan (D-MP), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

Ms. Marlow, chair of the MAPPS cadastre task force and a member of the National Research Council panel that produced the report, National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future, told Congress the challenge to creating a national cadastre or parcel layer to the NSDI "is not technical, it is political and institutional." She said, "While FedEx can track the location of millions of packages per day moving around the world, the Federal government does not track location of land, and it is stationary."

Witnesses also included Karen Siderelis, Geographic Information Officer (GIO) of the Department of the Interior and Acting Chair of the FGDC; and Michael Byrne, GIO of the State of California.

The hearing focused on intra- and inter- governmental coordination, partnerships, data sharing, duplication avoidance, and governance in geospatial activities. The Subcommittee members questioned witnesses on Title 13 restrictions to Census data that are causing redundant data collection activities and expenditures in the broadband mapping program and government agency use of stimulus funding to buy equipment for in-house performance of geospatial activities that could result in government competition with and duplication of the private sector, thus exacerbating unemployment. Chairman Costa stated that often the private sector is "better equipped to efficiently collect or process the data." Ms. Marlow and Messrs. Palatiello and Byrne called for relaxing the data sharing restriction. Ranking Member Lamborn illustrated that the mapping community prefers to "map once, use many times" while Federal agencies "map many times and horde the data."

Both Ms. Marlow and Mr. Palatiello commended the Federal government for its increasing use of geospatial data available to help the American public, but called for stronger leadership to make the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) a reality.

Formed in 1982, MAPPS is the only national association exclusively comprised of private firms in the remote sensing, spatial data and geographic information systems field in the United States. Current MAPPS memberships span the entire spectrum of the geospatial community, including Member Firms engaged in satellite and airborne remote sensing, surveying, photogrammetry, aerial photography, LIDAR, hydrography, bathymetry, charting, aerial and satellite image processing, GPS, and GIS data collection and conversion services. MAPPS also includes Associate Member Firms, which are companies that provide hardware, software, products and services to the geospatial profession in the United States and other firms from around the world. MAPPS provides its 150+ member firms opportunities for networking and developing business-to-business relationships, information sharing, education, public policy advocacy, market growth, and professional development and image enhancement.

For more information on MAPPS, please visit

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