News from the NSGIC Midyear Meeting 2012: COGO Tackles a Geospatial Report Card and Data Sharing, Wyoming Collects Parcels from Assessors

By Adena Schutzberg

Some years the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) Midyear Meeting has many controversies and heated discussions. This year, the late-February event in Annapolis, Maryland was calmer and focused on incremental updates on a variety of federal, state and organizational projects.

Government Accountability Office and Geospatial

The Federal Geographic Data Committee’s (FGDC) Ivan DeLoatch acknowledged that the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) exploration of potential waste and duplication in geospatial was keeping him up nights. Attendees expressed concern that various stakeholders, including the states, would not be involved in the information gathering.

Coalition of Geospatial Organizations I - The Geospatial Report Card

The Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO) came up several times during the two days of meetings. It is developing a geospatial report card, one akin to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Report Card on Infrastructure. This has been on the COGO agenda for some time and the challenge is whether to create something new (perhaps by evaluating each layer of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure [NSDI] framework layers) or to rely on an existing survey such as NSGIC’s own Geospatial Maturity Assessment. ASCE will likely join COGO as a member organization in the coming days. COGO is also working on efforts to include geography and geospatial technology in U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs.

COGO II - Data Sharing Working Group

Cy Smith of Oregon reported on the efforts of the COGO Data Sharing Working Group. The goal is a legal and policy framework for data sharing. The key issues to be addressed, based on the group’s first meeting in mid-February are: public access, funding, privacy, confidentiality, security, liability, authoritativeness and research data. Commenters suggested the following additions: enforcement, copyright, limited use (selling it).

The working group is embarking on a multi-year effort which began by looking at existing models and documents on the topic. Gene Trobia of Arizona described that state’s statutes, which were updated in 2008 to better match the new technology and changes to the state GIS organization. Among other things, the state had to define geodata and efforts were made to successfully engage the state’s surveyors. The outcome included these key ideas:

  • you can share data without a written agreement with another agency
  • you can have input on with whom the data can be shared
  • you  can make data free even to commercial folks (but you don’t have to - many local governments continue to charge, though the numbers are dwindling)
  • you are not liable
  • critical infrastructure data are exempt

New Jersey, in contrast, has an open records law. One issue that’s still unclear: Is newly created data, say the result of a simple query, covered under the open records law? Some would argue it’s not a record until that query is made and thus need not be made public. A decision can’t be made until a case is brought forward in court and that has not yet occurred.


Transportation for the Nation

After many years of effort, the Transportation for the Nation (TFTN) initiative is bearing fruit. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is ready (pending Office of Management and Budget sign-off) to ask the states for a measured network for all state roads and dual carriageways by 2013. The best news is that no state matching funds are required for project funding. While the funding decision was cheered, some found it disappointing that the request did not include addresses. Steve Lewis, USDOT GIO, made clear that TFTN "is a national initiative, not a federal initiative."

Next Generation 911

The most important takeaway from a panel on Next Generation 911 (the solution for emergencies that will, in time, support not only phone calls, but text, videos and photographs) implementation is simply that there is no one agency leading the charge! That leaves a lot of opportunities for states, counties, GIS and emergency response organizations to come together around the upgrade. Bill Johnston from New York has already been laying the groundwork for better statewide addresses by partnering with local jurisdictions. Another resource for those in search of best practices is a case study on public-private partnership between Virginia and Nokia (NAVTEQ) hosted by the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation.

National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC)

There was quite a lot of praise for the efforts of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC), which includes a handful of state GIS coordinators. Speakers described NGAC as a group committed to action that is forced to “hold its horses” in an advisory capacity. NGAC’s most recent work takes a hard look at FGDC. Quite a few seats on the committee are opening up for the next term.

Census Address Pilots

There was a Census Address Summit last September where a variety of people told their stories and challenges related to capturing and managing addresses. Six pilot programs tackling some of those issues are now underway. While there is much excitement about the Census Bureau reaching out and looking for new ways to work with state, local and tribal governments, there’s also concern that since Census is not a granting agency, successful pilot ideas may not be put into widespread practice.

Jerry Johnston of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided an update on the, noting that version one is now up and running and that a draft governance model has been developed. He also emphasized that is national and includes data from federal, state, tribal, regional and local governments, as well as non-governmental organizations., by contrast, includes federal agency data.

National Enhanced Elevation Assessment

The discussion of the preliminary results of the National Enhanced Elevation Assessment went by rather quickly. The goal of the effort was to define the need for elevation data for different government and business areas and to explore how a national program might best serve those needs. The draft recommendations involve three different scenarios with the same mid-level data resolution but with different levels of government funding. The 800+ page report will be released shortly.

The National Broadband Map

Michael Byrne, geographic information officer for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), provided an update on the National Broadband Map. He detailed new features of the website including the ability to query by carrier (added in Sept 2011) and a full mobile implementation (Jan 2012). Website usage runs between 4000-6000 visits per day, with four of the top ten busiest pages sporting maps. The developer API was put together specifically to have a low barrier to entry (no developer key needed). The FCC wanted to support usage tracking (how much use?) but not throttle (or limit) use in any way.

Here’s how FCC keeps track. Each time a developer makes a call, an entry is added to a MongoDB (NoSQL) database that includes the query’s target location. From those data Byrne and his team estimate that the API gets anywhere between 4 and 20 calls for each visitor to the website. They have also found some interesting patterns. One developer was scraping data from the site, alphabetically by state, since Alabama lit up all at once.  Another developer scraped the data along lines of latitude, as nice straight lines appeared on the map. Why are developers scraping data that is easily downloadable from the website? Byrne suggested it may be faster for these users.

Byrne detailed how well the map is serving the FCC by discussing how he and his colleagues used it to support reallocation of funds from the Connect America Fund.
He was quick to apologize for one undelivered promise. He’d planned to speedily share map updates submitted to the FCC back to the states. That has not yet happened.

I don’t believe Byrne ever used the phrase “open source” once, suggesting that unless attendees knew the project was done with that software, they’d never have known the difference.

Virtual USA

While not on the radar too much these days, I think the speaker said some 20 states are sharing data via the Virtual USA platform. Data shared via Virtual USA is hosted by the local organization and made available via the portal. The tools for managing the sharing of data (with whom, how often updated, etc.) are better, as are the viewers (including one developed in Flex). The big news is a move from a prototype for an operational system; MIT Lincoln Labs is doing the programming. Also coming: a viewer for those who prefer a Google environment and regional nodes that focus on smaller geographies.

Multi-state Cloud Project

Four western states (Montana, Colorado, Oregon, Utah) launched an effort about a year ago to explore a shared cloud implementation for GIS. Twelve other states have signed an “intent to participate.” A request for proposals came out of a meeting in 2011, and the RFP closed Jan. 20, 2012. A decision is expected (one or more awards) by June.

Wyoming Parcel Pilot

It took Wyoming 25 years of discussing GIS coordination before it hired its first GIS coordinator, Jacob Mundt, in 2011. Wyoming has 23 counties and some 570,000 residents. The first project for the new coordinator was suggested by a county assessor, and then essentially owned by the state’s assessors. All 23 county assessors announced they’d participate in sharing their parcel boundaries with the state. The significance, per Mundt: This is an organic effort, one bypassing governance of the state. That, he suggests, is why the assessors were quick to participate.

King County ROI Study

What was the key decision in prepping a GIS return-on-investment (ROI) study for King County, Washington? “We need an economist, not a GIS consultant.” The state of Oregon helped fund the study which focused on measuring ROI that has already accrued from GIS, not, as is common, looking into the future. Luckily, the county had good financial records. The research design compared the “with GIS” scenario vs. the “without GIS” scenario. The team of economists did a literature review to identify the types of benefits and then did interviews and surveys to tease out the details. The results for the year 2010 suggest the county had accrued $191M in benefits on costs of “just” $14.6M. Over the lifespan of the GIS effort, the study suggests a 10:1 return.

Published Monday, March 5th, 2012

Written by Adena Schutzberg

Published in


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