GIS and the Feds

The Esri Federal GIS (#fedgis) Conference kicks off today in Washington, D.C. the first major GIS event since last fall’s government shutdown. The mood might be described as tentative at best. The reason is continuing uncertainty just how much money will be available for GIS investment, once a lock for funding.

But attendance might be the first indication of how things will go. The current policy for conference attendance will probably give many federal employees pause. Employees are allowed to attend events so long as there is no cost to them. That puts a strain on conference management trying to make ends meet. Further, government employees are restricted to a modest, out of pocket expense for food. Many conference managers are foregoing food so as not to give the appearance of special treatment or “gift” where one is not intended. Even Esri seems to have downplayed this event, cutting a day from the program of past years and renaming the event from a “user conference” (formerly known as the "FedUC") to the more specific “Federal GIS.”

Another reason for concern is simply the pressure to reduce government budgets. During the preceding decade, GIS became an invaluable asset for counterterrorism and in active theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan. Geospatial intelligence outlays soared. Now, as the wars draw to a close, money will flow less freely. The most obvious impact was felt last year as GeoEye and DigitalGlobe were forced to merge because of cuts to the NextView contract.

However, if there is money to be had, GEOINT still might be GIS’s best friend. So, it’s interesting that this year’s keynote speaker at the conference is National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director Letitia Long. The NGA appears now to be the lead agency in developing geospatial technology applications perhaps displacing the U.S. Geological Survey. The NGA is most often called upon on domestic emergencies (like Hurricane Katrina and various tornado outbreaks) as well as its international mission of intelligence-gathering. Long is pushing an agenda consistent with the agency’s expanded scope and the development of mobile applications that she wants pushed to the warfighter plus "online and on-demand" access to intelligence.

The Department of the Interior appears to have taken up the charge of becoming a data disseminator. The recently revamped, which we reviewed on last week's Directions on the News podcast, aims to provide a portal to help government agencies and external stakeholders find and use geospatial data. While has gone through several iterations (ne: Geospatial OneStop) and may be a work in progress, it’s important that more people find it and use it. It’s the only way that the agency can evaluate its success.

Plenary sessions at the Esri Federal GIS conference include:

GIS – Integrating Our Government

  • Esri: The ArcGIS Platform – Desktop Perspective
  • Special Guest: Jason E. Feser, CW4, EN, U.S. Army

GIS – Integrating Our Real Time Systems

  • Esri: ArcGIS GeoEvent Processor

GIS – Integrating Our Enterprise Systems

  • Special Guest: David Schmidtknecht, CEO, cBEYONData

GIS – Integrating Our Policies, Decision Makers & Citizens

  • Special Guest: Josh Johnson, Vice President, Washington Operations, Logistic Specialties, Inc.
  • Special Guest: Cathy Cahill, Legislative Fellow, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
  • Esri: ArcGIS Storymaps

GIS – Integrating Our Government & Open Data

  • Special Guest: Harvey Simon, GIO, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Esri: ArcGIS Open Data

Directions Magazine will cover the conference. Follow us @directionsmag.

Published Monday, February 10th, 2014

Written by Joe Francica

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