Point of Beginning

Funding Bills Highlight Need for Data Sharing

Congress should focus on geospatial data sharing between federal, state and local governments and the private sector to save money.

July 1, 2013

Over the summer, the U.S. Congress will be feverishly working on appropriations bills for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Appropriations bills are the funding sources for the government and provide the money for agencies to execute programs and contracts.

Among the first to be considered is H.R. 2216, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. It includes money critical to Defense Department infrastructure. This legislation has a number of provisions of interest to the surveying and mapping community. Section 111 prohibits funding for architect and engineer contracts estimated by the government to exceed $500,000 for projects in Japan, in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member country or in countries bordering the Arabian Sea, unless such contracts are awarded to U.S. firms or U.S. companies participating in a joint venture with host-nation companies. This provides an opportunity for U.S. businesses interested in partnerships for international work.

What is the reason for such a strong directive? The House of Representatives committee with jurisdiction has concern about the contracting practices of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). The committee has said that the VA should work to ensure it is “contracting with reputable contractors who fulfill their contracts on time, within scope and with full payment to subcontractors.”

The appropriations proposed by the House totals $73.3 billion in discretionary funding, which is $1.4 billion more than the enacted level for fiscal year 2013 and approximately $2.4 billion more than the current level caused by the automatic sequestration spending cuts. While this seems like an increase, it is $1.4 billion less than President Obama requested for these programs.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act, H.R. 2217, includes $38.9 billion in discretionary funding–a decrease of $617.6 million from the fiscal year 2013 enacted level and $34.9 million less than the president’s request. This funding level is about $981 million more than the post-sequestration level, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.

 

Within the DHS bill is a specific line item for activities related to the Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis Program, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) activity to modernize, maintain and digitize the inventory of maps and develop a more integrated process of identifying, assessing, communicating and mitigating flood-related risks. This information is used to determine appropriate risk-based premium rates for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), to complete hazard determinations required for the nation’s lending institutions, and to develop appropriate mitigation and disaster response plans for federal, state and local emergency management personnel.

About $95 million is proposed for the program with the ability for additional sums to be provided by state and local governments or other political subdivisions for cost-shared mapping activities. FEMA is tasked with setting the priority of the number of streams, rivers and coastlines that still need detailed studies and remapping.

The pooling of money is becoming a preferred way of completing projects for surveying and mapping data that provide benefits for all levels of government. This mandate for FEMA cost-sharing was first authorized in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act in 2012. Congress has recognized that there are specific areas that state and local entities need more detailed studies and remapping. With the pooling of money, these other entities can collect the data they need that will benefit local response as well as contribute to the national priority. It also contributes to the goal of “map it once, use it many times.”

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) again testified on May 16, before a Senate committee on duplication in federal agency activities. The watchdog agency reported that “a total of 31 federal departments and agencies collect, maintain and use geospatial information–information linked to specific geographic locations that supports many government functions, such as maintaining roads and responding to natural disasters.”

In the testimony, GAO addressed the efforts of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Interior Department to create guidance to encourage more coordination of geospatial assets, reduce redundancies and decrease costs. However, the strategic planning and guidance fell short of achieving the goals.

From the GAO testimony: “Nevertheless, we found that the Federal Geographic Data Committee–the committee that was established to promote the coordination of geospatial data nationwide–and selected federal departments and agencies had not effectively implemented the tools that would help them to identify and coordinate geospatial data acquisitions across the government. As a result, the agencies have made duplicative investments and risk missing opportunities to jointly acquire data. Furthermore, although OMB has oversight responsibilities for geospatial data investments, it does not have complete and reliable information to identify potentially duplicative investments. Better planning and implementation among federal agencies could help reduce duplicative investments and provide the opportunity for potential savings of millions of dollars.”

Once again, the GAO report ascertains geospatial data reform is needed to reduce duplication and increase efficiencies. MAPPS has supported Rep. Doug Lamborn’s (R-Colo.) reintroduction of the “Map It Once, Use It Many Times” Act, H.R. 1604, which is intended to create a mechanism to enhance the use of geospatial data, products and technology to address the issues GAO has repeatedly brought to light.

 

Another MAP-21 Act (Pubic Law 112–141) provision tasks the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) with conducting an independent review of how FEMA can improve interagency and intergovernmental coordination on flood mapping, including a funding strategy to leverage and coordinate budgets and expenditures and establish joint funding mechanisms with other federal agencies and units of state and local government to share the collection and utilization of data among all governmental users. MAPPS has been contacted by the NAPA study team and interviewed for ideas on coordination strategies.

Through the appropriations process, Congress is mandating the government do more with less. Congress is directing agencies to come up with ways to reduce duplication and increase efficiencies.

Geospatial data-sharing is an area of potential benefit from the amalgamation of data and resources. Congress is beginning to understand the value of coordination to collect, store and manage geospatial data. However, there is a clear signal that the federal government does not want to be the sole provider of these activities. That is why MAPPS has supported efforts to utilize capabilities and data within the private sector and promoted legislation such as H.R. 1604. Duplication is not limited to overlapping activities from one federal agency to another or between federal and state governments, but it exists when government at any level replicates products, services or capabilities available from the private sector.

 The opportunity for the geospatial community to work together is growing if we do not work against ourselves. 

Information on the program for the MAPPS Geospatial and Engineering International Conference and registration can be found on the conference website, www.geointernational.org