GIS Maps Aid Public Policy-Making; Idaho’s Geospatial Database Offers Statewide Benefits; and China Launches Compass Navigation Satellite.

This map is the product of a larger project by the Congressional Cartography Program to investigate the demographic breakdown of people affected by Hurricane Katrina.

GIS Maps Aid Public Policy-Making

ESRI’s newly published book, Mapping for Congress: Supporting Public Policy with GIS, exhibits analytical maps created using geographic information system (GIS) technology, and explains how the maps help government legislators and policy makers visualize and assess issues, trends and crises to make better informed public policy decisions.

The book highlights maps created by the Library of Congress’ Congressional Cartography Program (CCP), a one-stop GIS shop established in 2003 to provide cartographic products and GIS services to Congress and the Congressional Research Service, the public policy research branch that provides objective analysis and research on all legislative issues to Congress.

According to the book’s editor, Nancy Sappington, the impetus to create the book began at the 2005 ESRI Federal Users Conference in Washington, D.C. “We wanted to highlight the Library of Congress’ Cartography Program, and the work it has done,” Sappington says. “We also wanted to open people’s eyes to GIS. These maps help people (and policy makers) look at today’s issues and ask different kinds of questions.”

Filled with colorful maps created using GIS,Mapping for Congressbegins by defining GIS technology, explaining its value, and describing how policy makers at every level of government can benefit from incorporating the technology into management and decision making. The book highlights current public policy projects and provides examples of the CCP’s use of GIS technology to analyze and map a wide range of legislative issues, from the potential hazard zones around a proposed liquefied natural gas facility in New Jersey to the demographic breakdown of people affected by flooding from Hurricane Katrina.

During committee meetings, Congressional members and other policy makers often utilize the maps to better visualize the scope of problems or issues before taking action. In 2005, for example, New Jersey Congressman Robert Menendez (now a U.S. senator) utilized a GIS map to fight a transportation appropriations bill put forth by the U.S. House of Representatives committee that would eliminate all of Amtrak’s long-distance routes. A large version of the map portraying all the states affected by the loss of Amtrak service was used during the floor debate and made a powerful statement among House representatives. As a result, House members voted to restore the long-distance routes.

ESRI Government Solutions Manager Chris Thomas worked exclusively with the Library of Congress’ cartographers and played an integral part in the publishing of Mapping for Congress. “While the book highlights the role GIS plays in supporting national public policy, we hope that all individuals involved in GIS and public policy will see themselves within the pages of the book,” Thomas says. “The key is linking elected officials and government executives to their GIS staffs.”

Data contained in the INSIDE Idaho database, such as this 1 x 2 degree USGS map depicting the quadrangle boundaries of Idaho, have been used to analyze and solve issues surrounding economic development, the demands of growth, and emergency and natural resource management.

Idaho's Geospatial Database Offers Statewide Benefits

The University of Idaho’s effective resource for storing and accessing geospatial data, INSIDE Idaho, has benefitted communities, businesses and professionals across the state. INSIDE Idaho, the state’s Interactive Numeric and Spatial Information Data Engine, collects and stores digital data related to the state’s natural resources, demographics and weather, and aerial imagery.

The data offered via INSIDE Idaho is easily accessed online and serves a wide range of users: students, faculty and researchers at higher education institutions; GIS professionals at state, local, tribal and federal government agencies; government decision makers; and business and industry sectors. The database has aided the entire state in various ways, including its economic development. In Kootenai County, for example, the population grew 55 percent between 1994 and 2004, and continues to grow. Since its inception in 1999, data contained in the INSIDE Idaho database has been used in Kootenai County to reconfigure school districts’ attendance zones, establish effective bus routes and create disaster preparedness plans for area school districts, among other projects.

The Idaho database is also saving Idaho residents time and money. GIS specialist Barb Whitaker for Idaho’s Worley Highway District created a state-of-the-art right of way model for the state’s Kootenai County by gathering information from INSIDE Idaho. Whitaker’s GIS knowledge and access to county and INSIDE Idaho data allowed her to map out all Kootenai County corner section markers; tie all legal descriptions (from 1890 to the present) to the map; and hyperlink deeds to each related polygon on the map. The completed project allows landholders, builders, engineers and planners to click on the related polygon to produce a plot map. In most other states around the country, those seeking right of way information are required to visit their county courthouse, request a time-consuming search and pay a fee.

The University of Idaho Library’s retired Head of Government Documents, Lily Wai, first observed that not enough geospatial information was available to library patrons. Recognizing the need and understanding the role of a library at a land-grant institution, INSIDE Idaho was created to organize and provide free access to Idaho’s government geospatial information. In 1999, the University of Idaho was awarded a grant to work on a data engine to make geospatial information readily accessible to the public. Since then, the university library has continued work on INSIDE Idaho, updating GIS information to its website on a daily basis. In 2002, INSIDE Idaho was recognized by the Idaho Geospatial Committee as the clearinghouse for computerized geographic information for the state.

GIS Specialist Bruce Godfrey works exclusively on updating INSIDE Idaho. According to Godfrey, INSIDE Idaho is continuously being enhanced to provide improved access and interactivity to those who are not GIS trained. “We’re now trying to improve services for everyone to view and interact with data in a web browser, without the requirement of desktop GIS software,” Godfrey says. “We hope to provide access to unique data sets.” INSIDE Idaho can be accessed at

China Launches Compass Navigation Satellite

On April 14, China launched a navigation satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province. The satellite is part of China’s Compass Navigation Satellite System designed for the country’s economic development, providing navigation and positioning services in transportation, meteorology, petroleum prospecting, forest fire monitoring, disaster forecasting, and telecommunications and public security. According to the Xinhua News Agency, the system is anticipated to provide services to customers all over China and neighboring countries by 2008. (SeePOB’s February and April “Newsline” sections for additional details.)

Associate Editor Regan Grant compiles Newsline. If you have a timely, newsworthy item, contact her at or 248/786-1620.