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Sight Lines: This Legislation Can Map Your Future

May 15, 2012
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On May 3, 2012, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources of the House Committee on Natural Resources held a field hearing in Colorado Springs, Colo., to address problems and solutions regarding the federal government's geospatial activities.

Testifying at the hearing were John Palatiello, MAPPS executive director; Brian Raber, CMS, GLS, GISP, vice president of  Merrick & Company (Aurora, Colo.), a member of the MAPPS board of directors; Leonard Gilroy, director of government reform at the Reason Foundation; Anu Mittal, director of the Natural and Environment Division at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); Brian Myers, PLS, on behalf of the NSPS; and Dr. Steve Jennings, associate professor and acting chair for the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Led by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), the hearing broadly addressed the need for legislation to improve the way the federal government handles geospatial information. It specifically addressed H.R. 4233, the Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Lamborn in March 2012 that aims to enhance the use of geospatial data, products, and services and increase the efficiency of federal geospatial activities. Witnesses also testified on H.R. 1620, the Federal Land Assets Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act, a bipartisan bill to improve federal land management by developing a multipurpose cadastre of federal real property and by eliminating duplicative and out of date land inventories.

In an interview following the hearing, Palatiello said there is solid support for both bills. “All the witnesses at the hearing recognized that there are issues that need to be resolved,” he said. “There was generally a consensus that the Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act and the FLAIR Act are sound solutions to those issues.”

Notably, Mittal pointed out that the process of getting access to federal land information is very cumbersome, time consuming and costly even for government agencies like the GAO. What’s more, the data is not always current or accurate, and it’s often still in a paper format rather than digital-if it’s accessible at all. And if it’s not accessible, then it really doesn’t exist.

“If an organization with the power of the GAO cannot access land information from federal agencies, imagine what it’s like for an individual citizen who needs to submit an application for a permit for activities on federal land,” Palatiello said. “That person would find it virtually impossible to get all the information that he or she would need. In fact, the inspector general of the Department of the Interior found that the Bureau of Land Management was denying the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue because of activities that cannot take place on federal land due to the problems with surveying and mapping and land information.”

Palatiello said the committee would evaluate the testimony that was received during the hearing, make any necessary modifications, and then move the bills forward through the legislative process. Although it’s difficult to predict how quickly Congress might act on the bills, Palatiello was optimistic that both H.R. 4233 and H.R. 1620 might become law within the next couple of years. He said MAPPS will continue to advocate the legislation. However, he said, individuals can also play a valuable role.

“The most constructive thing geospatial professionals can do right now is to send an email or call their representatives in Congress and discuss the need for better organization and coordination of federal activities, which is what the Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act aims to do,” he said, “and talk about the need for a cadastre or land information system that starts with a foundation of good information about federal land ownership and ultimately can build toward a national parcel system.”

Note: More information about the Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act, including an archive of the May 3 hearing webcast, can be found at www.mapps.org/?page=GA_FI_MIO_UIMT_Act. Additional details about the FLAIR Act can be found at http://www.mapps.org/?page=GA_FI_FLAIR_Act.
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