H.R. 4233, the Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act, is a bill before Congress that would restore the USGS to its position as the pre-eminent civil federal mapping agency. 

H.R. 4233, the Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act, is a bill before Congress that would restore the USGS to its position as the pre-eminent civil federal mapping agency. Introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, which oversees the USGS, the bill focuses a new USGS, through a proposed National Geospatial Technology Administration, on leadership, coordination and the provision of basic geospatial data.

The bill updates USGS authorizations for data activities, such as the framework layers of the NSDI. This would be accomplished through enhanced consolidation of and coordination among federal agencies, greater utilization of the private sector, and strengthening federal agency performance of inherently governmental activities.

The bill proposes to consolidate responsibilities for NSDI leadership in a National Geospatial Technology Administration within USGS; merge duplicate federal geospatial programs of the Interior Department, Forest Service and NOAA into the new Administration; encourage the use of commercial data and private sector service providers; establish a National Geospatial Policy Commission to replace the FGDC and provide a priority-setting mechanism that not only includes federal agencies, but Congress and non-federal stakeholders as well; provide for acquisition of professional geospatial services on the basis of quality, qualifications and experience of competing firms; establish an advocacy function for the dynamic U.S. private sector geospatial community; and coordinate the tens of millions of dollars the U.S. government spends each year on geospatial-related research and development along strategic goals that meet the needs of government and the private sector.

The USGS operates primarily under authorization provided by the Act of March 3, 1879 (codified in 43 U.S.C. 31 et seq.). It has been decades since Congress last enacted major legislation affecting one of the original and core missions of the USGS--the surveying and mapping of the United States. The last major legislation to authorize a mapping program in USGS was the National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992. Programs such as The National Map, the National Spatial Data Infrastructure and Imagery for the Nation either floundered or never got off the ground, in part because of the absence of specific authorization legislation. As a result, surveying and mapping has proliferated among more than 40 federal agencies, resulting in duplication, a lack of coordination, gaps in coverage and the absence of a strategic approach to providing the basic geographic information needed in the 21st century for scientific research, as well as practical applications that contribute to the economic health, quality of life, and safety and security of our nation.

The need for better coordination of federal surveying and mapping activities has been well documented by Congressional hearings, GAO reports, National Academy of Sciences studies, and investigations by the National Academy of Public Administration, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and other entities. Such reports date back to 1973, when the OMB recommendations were published but never acted upon.

The National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), established by President Clinton in Executive Order 12906 on April 11, 1994, and amended and reaffirmed by President Bush in Executive Order 13286 on March 5, 2003, provides a framework for the geographic information America needs today. It establishes seven framework data layers: geodetic control, cadastral, orthoimagery, elevation, hydrography, administrative units and transportation.

H.R. 4233 adds to the NSDI “information on underground infrastructure, including the location, type, size, composition, and use of underground structures including tunnels and pipelines.” The need for this data is extraordinary. The American Public Works Association (APWA) estimates that an underground utility line somewhere in the United States is hit every 60 seconds. The annual cost due to utility damage is in the billions of dollars, and one of the leading causes of these accidents and disruptions is inaccurate records and locating.

The nation’s underground infrastructure is aging and deteriorating at a rapid rate. According to a University of Idaho study, “Much has been made, in recent years, of the potential crisis facing the nation due to our aging infrastructure. This concern is easily understood by the public as they travel along highways constructed over 50 years ago and cross bridges built by their grandparents. In contrast, however, the deteriorating condition of the nation’s underground infrastructure has not been appreciated to the same degree. This is primarily because water mains and sewer mains tend to be ‘out of sight and out of mind.’”

Now, more than ever, municipal officials, transportation designers, utility and pipeline operators need solid information to plan for the challenges of tomorrow. In addition to these energy, transportation and municipal markets, telecom and buried electric transmission and distribution clients have similar needs.

The Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) published a report, “Encouraging Innovation in Locating and Characterizing Underground Utilities” which found, “throughout the years, underground utilities have proliferated within highway rights-of-way. The location and nature of many such utility lines have not always been properly documented. Moreover, the presence of underground utilities within the highway right-of-way and the lack of pedigree information about some utility lines present unique challenges for highway renewal activities, which often require relocation of underground utilities to ensure public safety. The untimely discovery of an unknown underground utility needing relocation is one of the major causes of delay during highway renewal projects and, as such, one of the major contributors to traffic disruptions and budget overruns. Decision makers in both transportation agencies and utility companies need timely access to accurate utility location information in order to minimize the risk of disruption during highway renewal activities. Accidental damage to underground utility facilities during construction results in lost lives, serious injuries, project delays, and aggravating service disruptions. These accidents are often attributed to a lack of knowledge of the location of such facilities.”

The American Water Works Association recently released a report, “Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge.” It is a call to action for utilities, consumers and policy makers and recognizes that the need to replace pipe in the ground “puts a growing stress on communities that will continue to increase for decades to come.” The study says the massive investment needed for buried drinking water infrastructure in the United States totals more than $1 trillion between now and 2035.

Initiatives such as The National Map and the NSDI framework data only address above ground and underwater features. A large portion of the nation’s assets are underground, and they are not being included in any of the national geospatial initiatives to update and complete mapping and location-based data of the nation. It is these unseen, underground features which pose the greatest threat to public safety. H.R. 4233, the Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act, is a first step toward addressing this need.