Point of Beginning

Reflecting on the NSDI

September 11, 2000
Weekly update


Donald A. Buhler, Chief Cadastral Surveyor, wrote the following letter to ACSM Executive Director Curt Sumner regarding the state of National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).

From October 1999 to April 2000, a series of four articles was published in seven professional surveying/Geographic Information System (GIS) magazines. The articles focused on the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), the National Spatial Data Council (NSDC), state and local roles in the NSDI, and the future federal roles in building a Geographic Information (GI) base. These articles fostered a wide-ranging discussion—a necessary and productive element of a robust and dynamic NSDI.

Where We Have Been
In 1784, Thomas Jefferson, other surveyors, geographers and legislators planned a grand and sweeping vision, flowing over the lands of the Northwest Territory. The 1785 Land Ordinance became the earliest GIS seed, leading to the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) for public land surveys of the western states. The result of these cadastral (ownership) surveys was a seamless mosaic, promoting the domestic tranquility in our republic, from then until now.

In 1989, another grand vision was born in the form of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Geographic Coordinate Data Base (GDCB). Geographic coordinate information was collected under the premise of accommodating large geographical areas (state/interstate/international); providing a seamless GI interface tied to the land tenure system (corners and surveys of the PLSS): providing digital data that is vertically integrated for various disciplines (data gathered once but used many times), data that is spatially correct (between interrelated PLSS points) that could “flex” via datum adjustments or be variably constrained with injected data. This data would be available for a broad user base (public) in a “clearinghouse” location (http://www.blm.gov/gcdb/). See also GCDB process at (http://www.blm.gov/gcdb/process/index.htm).

In 1990, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) was formed under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-16 (www.fgdc.gov). This interagency committee promoted the development of standards, use, sharing and dissemination of spatial data on a national basis.

In 1994, Executive Order 12906 (http://www.fgdc.gov/publications/documents/geninfo/execord.html) was signed, defining the infrastructure and role of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).

In 1996, in an effort to foster independent participation regarding the geospatial arena, the BLM, in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the National Ocean Service (NOS) solicited the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) for its perspective on how these organizations could more effectively manage their respective GI programs. NAPA then published its findings in 1998, prompting lively discussions about building a strategy for a GI base in the 21st century.

In December 1996, the FGDC Steering Committee, under the Chairmanship of Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, approved the Cadastral Data Content Standard (http://www.fgdc.gov/standards/status/sub3_5.html). These standards apply to all cadastral data collection and land record automation that involve federal funding at all levels of government, academia and the private sector. The BLM Cadastral Survey program chairs the FGDC Cadastral Subcommittee.

In March 1999, the National Integrated Land System (NILS) Project Charter was signed by the BLM and USFS, the two largest Federal land management agencies. NILS (http://www.blm.gov/nils/) is working in partnership with states, counties, tribes and private industry to develop a common data model and software tools for the collection, management, and sharing of survey data, cadastral data and land records information. Using GIS, NILS will greatly facilitate cooperative land management and better decision-making among all land managers.

In June 1999, the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology of the House Committee on Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Stephen Horn, convened a hearing on “Geographical Information Systems Policies and Programs.” Secretary Babbitt reinforced the importance of a national cadastral system as created by the founders of this nation.

In March 2000, the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) sponsored the Western Cadastral Data and Policy Forum. The organizations attending recognized that the NSDI, land-record modernization and cadastral data are critical for maintaining livable communities, encouraging economic development and developing the tools that give community leaders the ability to manage both. Governors Mike Leavitt of Utah and Jim Geringer of Wyoming sponsored, and the WGA unanimously adopted, a resolution (http://www.westgov.org/wga/policy/00/00005.htm) to “urge BLM to complete, enhance and maintain the GCDB in coordination and partnership with states. Western governors call on Congress to provide the necessary funding for BLM to undertake this important effort.”

Where We Are Today
BLM Cadastral Survey, through the efforts of the GCDB Project, has collected geospatial data for approximately three-quarters of the townships in the western United States. Cadastral Survey has leveraged its existing resources by building partnerships, entering into data-sharing agreements with state, county and tribal governments and with the private sector. Much progress has been made in the past few years in these collaborative partnerships. Technological innovations have exponentially increased accessibility and use of GCDB data. Cadastral Data Content Standards for the NSDI continue to be refined and adapted to the culture and needs of the communities they serve.

Where We Are Going
BLM Cadastral Survey presses onto “dream big dreams.” Helping to solve economic, social and environmental problems via effective use of GI base information will be a continuing priority. Place-based decisions, both on-the-ground and in organizational/agency office settings, will require effective use of existing resources. Bringing the NSDI “critical mass” together in a mutually productive and beneficial collaborative environment is essential. Inventive ways will be explored in discovering the ever more efficient ways of sharing data across agency boundaries, political jurisdictions, and public and private sectors through a single national multi-purpose cadastre.

BLM Cadastral Survey applauds the professional magazines and the authors of the articles for their role in building a more effective and proficient GI base.

Sincerely,
Donald A. Buhler
Chief Cadastral Surveyor
Department of the Interior
Bureau of Land Management