In testimony before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, of the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, MAPPS President Dick McDonald commended Congress on its leadership in creating the hydrographic survey contracting program in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), through the Hydrographic Services Improvement (HSIA) Act of 1998, but said that it needs to go further to benefit taxpayers and reduce duplication between NOAA and the private sector. 

McDonald was testifying on the Hydrographic Services Improvement Amendments Act of 2013, H.R. 1399, a reauthorization of the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998. 

In 1998, there was a "survey backlog" of 43,000 square nautical miles (SNM) of critical areas along the U.S. coastline that needed to be collected. The hydrographic survey program in NOAA, through the original HSIA Act, and its subsequent amendments and reauthorization has successfully and significantly reduced the backlog. To date, surveys of more than 28,000 SNM have been completed.

"It is because of the leadership of Congress, and this subcommittee in particular, that NOAA has begun to transform itself from being a source of competition with the private geospatial community to a partner that utilizes the services and capabilities available from numerous qualified private firms," said McDonald.

In his testimony, McDonald recommended the coastal geospatial services contract program carried out by NOAA's Coastal Services Center in Charleston, S.C., as a model for the rest of the agency.

"In this program, roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. NOAA, as a data partner for federal, state and local government, creates the demand for geospatial data. The private sector provides the supply of geospatial data," said McDonald.

Numerous reports issued by the Commerce Department Inspector General and independent government studies have concluded that NOAA should contract for mapping activities and decommission its hydrographic fleet "because its operation is so much more expensive than the private sector." The Hydrographic Services Review Panel (HSRP), an advisory board established by the Secretary of Commerce, has recommended that NOAA conduct a thorough cost-comparison of government and contractor hydrographic surveys.

In written testimony, MAPPS applauded NOAA's valuable work in the establishment of professional and technical standards, research and development.

"For too long, NOAA and other federal agencies have unwisely spent taxpayers' dollars by attempting to perform commercially available hydrographic and other geospatial activities. We urge the subcommittee to use the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act to change this paradigm," said McDonald. "This is not a recommendation that comes solely from MAPPS, but it is one that has been advocated by virtually every study conducted on NOAA's programs."

  MAPPS urged the Subcommittee to add H.R. 1382, the "Digital Coast Act of 2013," a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), which would develop a coordinated and comprehensive national mapping effort for coastal, state and territorial waters of the United States, as an amendment to H.R. 1399.