December 2, 2020

New Report from the Congressional Research Service: “The Geospatial Data Act of 2018”

A new report (R45348; published on October 22, 2018) from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

2018-10-23_10-45-58In the 114th and 115th Congresses, several bills entitled the Geospatial Data Act were introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives. Congress did not act on legislation introduced in the 114th Congress; however, in September 2018, a version of the bill, the Geospatial Data Act of 2018 (GDA), was included in H.R. 302, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, as Subtitle F of Title VII. Congress passed H.R. 302 on October 3, 2018, and President Trump signed it into law on October 5 as P.L. 115-254.

The federal government has recognized the need to organize and coordinate the collection and management of geospatial data since at least 1990. In that year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) revised Circular A-16—which provides guidance regarding coordination of federal surveying, mapping, and related spatial data activities—to establish the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and to promote the coordinated use, sharing, and dissemination of geospatial data nationwide. Past Congresses have recognized the challenge of coordinating and sharing geospatial data from the local, county, and state level to the national level and vice versa. Until enactment of the GDA, however, the executive branch had led nearly all efforts to better coordinate and share geospatial data within the federal government.

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The GDA codifies aspects of OMB Circular A-16, authorizing many of its existing components and modifying or expanding upon other aspects. The GDA continues the FGDC and supports the goal of creating a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), defined in the new law as “the technology, policies, criteria, standards, and employees necessary to promote geospatial data sharing throughout the Federal Government, State, tribal, and local governments, and the private sector (including nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education).”

The GDA adds a number of congressional oversight components. For example, it adds a requirement for annual performance reporting from each of the federal agencies responsible for a specific geospatial topic (or theme), and it requires the FGDC to conduct a summary and evaluation of each agency in fulfilling the responsibilities listed in the GDA. The annual summaries and evaluations must be made available to the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC, charged with providing advice and recommendations to the FGDC). Further, the law requires the FGDC to make available to Congress, not less than every two years, a report summarizing and evaluating agency performance, comments from the NGAC, responses to those comments, and responses to comments from the responsible agencies themselves.

One long-standing issue for Congress has been the cost of geospatial activities to the federal government—namely, what it costs to acquire, manage, share, and use geospatial data. To help address that concern, the GDA requires the responsible federal agencies to inventory and assess their geospatial data assets as part of their annual budget submissions. The GDA potentially could illuminate for Congress how each responsible agency budgets for its geospatial activities, which may allow Congress to better evaluate what portion of agency appropriations contributes to the federal geospatial enterprise. This information could enable Congress to query the Director of OMB (the vice-chairperson of the FGDC), about the budgetary implications of agency expenditures on geospatial-related activities in each budget cycle.

Table of Contents

Direct to Full Text Report (Available in HTML, PDF, and EPUB)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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