MAPPS President Brian R. Raber began his discussion of the Geospatial Data Act by quoting the official MAPPS statement:

“MAPPS, the association of geospatial firms, is honored to have been part of the cooperative efforts that facilitated the passage of the Geospatial Data Act (GDA). On behalf of MAPPS, I would like to sincerely thank Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) for not only their sponsorship of this legislation but also for their leadership and commitment to see it through a complex legislative process and signed into law. Additionally, thank you to all the different associations and special interest groups that came together under a shared vision of elevating the work of geospatial professionals.

“Thank you to Ed Cox, MAPPS Political Affairs Director who made a positive impact by active listening and collaborative problem solving within the geospatial community and still advocated for policies important to MAPPS. Lastly, I am grateful for the many MAPPS members who responded to our Call to Action by connecting with their representatives on Capitol Hill on this legislation.”

POB then asked Raber and the MAPPS staff to reply to some specific questions.


POB: What were some of the key elements of the Geospatial Data Act that MAPPS supported?

MAPPS: MAPPS has been a supporter of the attempts by the federal government to improve coordination, management, acquisition, and implementation of common standards among the departments and agencies with regard to mapping and geospatial data. MAPPS looks for efficiencies in the use of geospatial data and whether it is through OMB Circular A-16 or its previous iterations – the executive branch has made valiant attempts at providing a framework for this effort.

The Geospatial Data Act was the first bipartisan and comprehensive approach to providing, through the law, a foundation and framework to support this same vision. At MAPPS, we believe that a solid foundation for the management of the national geospatial data infrastructure at the federal level will, over time, provide additional business opportunities for our membership across the board.

Lastly, and importantly, we requested language within the legislation that highlights the important role the private sector plays in providing data and services as it pertains to geospatial data – and even added, in collaboration with our many partners, a section that states that, to the maximum extent possible, the covered agencies utilize the private sector for the provision of data and services.


POB: Why are those issues important to land surveyors and the geospatial community?

MAPPS: Geospatial data is one of many expenses the government has to incur to adequately manage assets, respond to disasters, plan, perform analysis and provide information. Having a solid foundation for the responsible management of geospatial data, and language urging the use of the private sector to provide the data, is language that provides a mutual benefit both to the data user and the data provider – as well as the American taxpayer.

With the federal government able to better manage, share, and disseminate this data, it is our belief that this will lead to increased demand by the federal government for quality geospatial data assets and services that, without a doubt, will help them to better fulfill their various agency missions.

Specifically, here is the language that MAPPS negotiated into the legislation:

Congressional Finding: Congress finds that the private sector in the United States, for the purposes of acquiring and producing quality geospatial data and geospatial data services, has been and continues to be invaluable for carrying out the varying missions of federal departments and their agencies, as well as contributing positively to the country’s economy. 

In General: The Committee (FGDC) and each covered agency may, to the maximum extent practical, rely upon and use the private sector in the United States for the provision of geospatial data and services.


POB: Where were there compromises (eg. the legislation didn’t fully address the needs), and how significant is the impact of those compromises?

MAPPS: As with any large piece of legislation, there were many voices advocating for their various interests in this bill. As the only association representing private sector interests, we pushed strongly for increased public-private partnerships and business opportunities for the firms we represent. MAPPS focused on bringing these groups together to find where there is common ground and where there were areas to compromise on the legislation. Additionally, we felt that it was important to maintain the viability of the larger bill – knowing that if it were to remain a passable piece of legislation, it couldn’t devolve into a grab-bag for the various special interests involved in negotiating language.

We worked with open data groups, state associations, companies, and various groups that had an interest in the legislation to find a way to advocate for increased utilization of the private sector, while also promoting data transparency, government coordination and public access. It certainly was a tightrope finding common ground, but we feel that at the end of the day, while no group got everything they wanted – including us – we all were satisfied with the result.

MAPPS was very pleased to hear that our collaborative efforts made a difference in the GDA legislative process after receiving positive feedback from many stakeholders. For example, Vivian Moeglein, chief of staff for Congressman Bruce Westerman stated, “Thank you, and MAPPS, for everything you’ve done to advance the Geospatial Data Act and partnering with us on this effort.”  

Additionally, Molly Schar, executive director of National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) sent a note stating, “Thanks for your partnership and cooperation to make the GDA a reality. Truly commend the MAPPS Board for your new direction with advocacy – it certainly paid off!” 


POB: What direct impact and long-term effects of the Geospatial Data Act do you see for surveyors and geospatial professionals?

MAPPS: We believe that improving federal management of geospatial data will increase demand for these products and demand for these types of professionals – both in and out of government.

We’ve seen in many states that utilization of common standards such as the USGS 3DEP standards for LiDAR – to promote data sharing among them and their county, and municipal government counterparts – that this has really put a spotlight on the value that this data brings to the table. It provides benefits simply because they have access to data that they haven’t been able to use before. Counties more easily pulling data from the relevant state departments, and state departments able to retrieve detailed data from counties and cities, has shown them just what you can do with these valuable resources, and has increased demand across the board for quality geospatial data. The federal government getting its geospatial house in order is the last piece to this puzzle and will truly add value to all publicly owned geospatial data resources, and increase demand for more – which the private sector stands ready to provide on an economical basis.

Additionally, as a result of open and fair discussion amongst many stakeholders to find common ground for the good of the geospatial community, a foundation of trust and understanding has been established for future legislation. It is the desire of MAPPS that operating in a vacuum and behind the scenes for the good of only few can be avoided in the future, so that collaborative and quicker results can be obtained.  


POB: What is next on MAPPS’ agenda with legislators? That is to say, does MAPPS see a need to revisit some of the issues that were not covered in the Geospatial Data Act? Or, is the act sufficient and MAPPS is moving on to the next issue? (What would that next issue be?)

MAPPS: While the Geospatial Data Act was big, it was purposefully not prescriptive. Among the various geospatial themes, be it cadastral, elevation, imagery, remote sensing etc., there is going to be a need to make improvements to federal policies managing them. Just one example that comes to mind is cadastral data. In the west, many of our local Bureau of Land Management offices are in great need of updating their property information. Some of these offices are still relying on older maps, and there can be discrepancy and property line conflict that needs to be improved. Many have argued, as MAPPS has in the past, that the federal government should have some type of modern-day inventory of owned land assets and properties, both to better understand owned federal assets, and also to reduce conflict with adjacent property owners.

Aside from prescriptively improving federal policies on the management of geospatial data, MAPPS is continuing to support and advocate for programs that provide the federal government with needed geospatial data assets. For example, the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) is a poster child program of success where the commercial sector provides the government with accurate and high-quality elevation data that is funded by federal agencies, states, counties and others all working together. The return on investment for this program is huge across the government and commercial sectors. Infrastructure, flood plain management, landslide management, hazard assessment, disaster recovery and mitigation are just a few of the uses of this data that better allows the government to improve their processes. There are many more uses that benefit the public. We will continue to advocate for maintaining these crucial programs, while also advocating for the creation of others where they are needed.


POB: How can surveyors and geospatial professionals support this next effort?

MAPPS: Get involved. We have an incredibly active membership and we try to leverage that to the best of our ability. We have regular call-to-action drives with our membership and we engage with our government representatives and officials to advocate for policies that we believe will move the entire industry forward. I’d encourage anyone to take a look at our website www.mapps.org to get more information about what we do and some of the efforts we are currently pursuing.

Ultimately, we have found that active, cooperative, collaborative, and vigorous engagement with our partners, representatives and government officials is the best way to move the needle. We did just that with the Geospatial Data Act, and we were able to get some wins that we wouldn’t have been able to get any other way. We made a difference. It takes this type of engagement that is going to make the difference in the next effort that surely will be coming down the pike.

It took a unified community of geospatial stakeholders from academia, government and private sector to make this bill happen. In the end, MAPPS is honored to have been part of the cooperative efforts that facilitated the passage of the Geospatial Data Act (GDA), through H.R.302 FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. MAPPS would like to sincerely thank Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) for not only their sponsorship of this legislation, but also for their leadership and commitment to see it through a complex legislative process and signed into law. Additionally, thank you to all the different associations and special interest groups that came together under a shared vision of elevating the work of geospatial professionals. 

A thank you is also needed to Ed Cox, MAPPS political affairs director, who made a positive impact by re-engaging MAPPS into the GDA discussion with active listening and collaborative problem solving within the geospatial community and still advocated for policies important to MAPPS. Lastly, it important to recognize the many MAPPS members who responded to a call-to-action by connecting with their representatives on Capitol Hill on this legislation. Being part of the legislative process in this manner is a privilege and honor as an American and as an active participant in the great geospatial community.

As a result of the manner in which MAPPS engaged itself in the GDA process, we are relevant, growing, and looking forward to the next legislative challenge and opportunity where we can support and serve the geospatial community.

Get Involved

The MAPPS annual Winter Conference is scheduled for Jan. 25-28, 2019 in Denver.

The next “Hill Day,” where MAPPS facilitates member visits to legislative offices, will be March 12-13, 2019 in Washington, D.C. 2019 Federal Programs Conference.