Championing Geospatial Data

Executive Director Ivan DeLoatch on the changing role of the Federal Geographic Data Committee


With the passing of the Geospatial Data Act (GDA) in October 2018, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) will have a new reporting line. Organized under the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and chaired by the Secretary of the Interior, the committee will now also report biannually to Congress.

FGDC Executive Director Ivan DeLoatch welcomes the interaction with the legislative branch. Even as the FGDC combs through the GDA to further understand what its purview will be, certain aspects of the committee’s mission—managing federal geospatial resources—will remain the same.

How does the GDA affect the FGDC’s mission?

For two decades, various administrations have seen the value of what we do, and now the legislative branch does as well. State and local governments have communicated their needs to Congress, but because of the way our committee was structured legally under the executive branch, we could not always communicate directly with those bodies.

The FGDC has the foundation in place to accelerate the pace of current initiatives, and the GDA represents an opportunity to demonstrate how those resources were invested and to identify where more resources are needed to advance the National Spatial Data Infrastructure. Our stakeholders recognize that we have certain resources to implement our plans for infrastructure, but that we are operating in a challenging business environment. The FGDC wants to ensure the programs it oversees can overcome certain barriers to efficiency.

Can you describe some of the geospatial data assets you oversee?

One stated goal of government stakeholders is the modernization of IT in general and managing geodata as a strategic asset specifically. As part of the National Geospatial Data Asset (NGDA) Management Plan, the FGDC has identified 177 core national datasets it manages. Analysis and management of these datasets allow various stakeholders to understand the health of or gaps in the datasets, while at the same time minimizing costs and preventing duplication.

The amount of data available is staggering. Private individuals, businesses, the military, and GEOINT sources are capturing huge volumes of information every day. And yet, there are tasks that still need to be accomplished. The GEOINT Community Workforce Development Program launched GeoPathways in concert with the State Department, inviting students to assist the department on projects in topics such as water management, natural disasters, and other environmental concerns. Participants conduct studies in virtual environments. Outside of that program, other citizens are crowdsourcing enormous amounts of useful geodata, though verification of that data presents a significant challenge.

You’ve previously spoken about “closing the gap between gatherers and users” of geospatial data. How is the FGDC facilitating this?

Access to the collaborative NGDA environment requires shared, uniform data management and data management practices. Setting standards for data management is a cornerstone of the work we do. For more than 10 years, we have worked with the Open Geospatial Consortium, the Geospatial Intelligence Standards Working Group, and others to promote standards adherence to allow for more effective information sharing.

Folks are starting to see the value in standardization. So many interfaces will be driven by user experience, so as geodata systems are implemented across government, we want users to experience it as a valuable and reliable commodity. Plus, it could save agencies time and money—it makes sense to evaluate existing platforms before going out to build another one. The spatial data infrastructure has the potential to be a grand integrator of socioeconomic, financial, statistical, and environmental data.

Could you talk about some of the international groups you work with to develop their geospatial data infrastructures?

Geospatial data management does not stop at U.S. borders. The FGDC is part of an intergovernmental group of 105 countries and 125 participating organizations working to implement architectural principles to share data globally through Global Earth Observation System of Systems. This will allow the U.S to share select data and gain access to data collected by international sources.

The FGDC also has a United Nations (UN) Global Geospatial Information Management Working Group that develops reports for the United States Member State dossier. The group reviews and reports on geospatial data identified by the UN in fields such as climate change, disaster management, and more—again with the goal of non-duplication. This activity is of great benefit to the U.S. in many areas, both strategic and financial.

What are other goals the FGDC is working toward?

We need to improve outreach so agencies understand what data they can access. I recently briefed the Federal CIO Council and some members didn’t know the extent of geospatial data available. The FGDC and other geospatial champions believe data drives the economy and there is a vast reservoir of information waiting to be tapped.

As more federal departments are required to incorporate geospatial data in their reporting under the GDA, that reservoir and awareness of it will grow. is a space for sharing unclassified geospatial data and is a vehicle for transparency and open government. Ultimately, this will improve the lives of citizens. The GDA will be a shot in the arm to prioritize geospatial information and show that it is a bigger, more important resource for the public as well as for business, the executive branch, and Congress.

Posted in: Perspective   Tagged in: 2019 Issue 1, Civil, Data, USGS

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