In Depth A NOAA topographical map of the continental United States.

Published on August 30th, 2013 | by Travis Korte


Map it Once, Use it Many Times Act

A House bill is calling for an overhaul of federal geospatial data collection and management, in light of the wasteful duplication of mapping efforts across federal agencies. Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), who sponsored H.R. 1604, the “Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act,” described the problem in a recent editorial:

“If you want a topographic map, you go to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) in the Interior Department. If you want a shoreline map, you go to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). If you want to add Federal parcels you have to go to the Bureau of Land Management…The practice in federal agencies is ‘map it many times and hoard the data,’ whereas it should be to ‘map it once and use it many times.'”

The bill, which was introduced to the House on April 17, 2013, would establish a National Geospatial Technology Administration (NGTA) within the Interior Department’s U.S. Geological Survey to centralize and manage federal geospatial efforts. This administration would consolidate the mapping activities of the Interior Department, Forest Service and NOAA. The bill would also establish a National Geospatial Policy Commission comprised of federal agencies, Congress and non-federal stakeholders to help prioritize and establish goals for the nation’s geospatial activities.

One of the key activities of the proposed NGTA would be the creation and maintenance of a National Geospatial Database, the contents of which are specified extensively in the bill, and which range from transportation network information to hydrographic and underground infrastructure data. With the exception of information withheld in the interest of national security, the database will be available publicly, and the bill makes crucial provisions for promulgation of interoperability standards by the administration on the data to be housed in the database.

Congressman Lamborn’s Colorado has become a national hub of geospatial companies such as Data Transfer Solutions and Riverside Technologies, and the bill concludes with a call to encourage federal use of private geospatial firms “to the maximum extent practicable.” This includes a mechanism for internal information gathering and reporting on ways the NGTA might make use of the private sector, as well as an advocacy function for firms in the field.

The bill is currently pending consideration by the House Subcommittee on Environment.

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About the Author

Travis Korte is a research analyst at the Center for Data Innovation specializing in data science applications and open data. He has a background in journalism, computer science and statistics. Prior to joining the Center for Data Innovation, he launched the Science vertical of The Huffington Post and served as its Associate Editor, covering a wide range of science and technology topics. He has worked on data science projects with HuffPost and other organizations. Before this, he graduated with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley, having studied critical theory and completed coursework in computer science and economics. His research interests are in computational social science and using data to engage with complex social systems. You can follow him on Twitter @traviskorte.

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