State of the NGAC: March Meeting Reveals Recommendations from the FGDC…maybe

Update: Some of the references made in the original report were in error. They have been updated herein.

At the March meeting of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) meeting, several key recommendations from the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) were presented including a "State of the NGAC" (ppt) briefing. It is worth reviewing the PowerPoint presented by Dr. Dave Cowen, chairman. However, having not been briefed on the presentation, it is difficult to truly understand if the NGAC has been effective in providing the "advice and recommendations on federal geospatial policy" as its mission states.

A summary of the recommendations for 2011 to the NGAC by the FGDC is provided in their meeting notes. But this document only reveals initiatives, not specifics. For example, under the heading of "Innovative Strategies for Geospatial Programs and Partnerships" one iniative states: Provide feedback and recommendations on how FGDC partner agencies can take the use of geospatial data and technology to a new level in the future by...(NGAC initiative) Utilizing public-private partnerships and other innovative solutions to develop geospatial data, fill critical data gaps, and leverage scarce resources.

It's this kind of vaguery that problematic and gives government a bad name. What kind of public-private partnership are being suggested? Is this like an MOU or cooperative program between Intergraph and the USGS that leverages digital cameras for high resolution imagery for the National Map, for example? What are the specifics?

Another example: Provide analysis, advice, and recommendations on the impacts that new and emerging technologies are likely to have on the management and use of federal geospatial data and programs by...(directive) Identify opportunities to utilize cloud computing technology and resources in innovative ways to support geospatial programs.

Again...this is very vague. Last year, the FGDC presented information and the architecture for the GeoCloud Sandbox (ppt). What happened to that iniative? There is no mention of the GeoCloud Sandbox in this year's guidance. Was it "defunded?" There is information on a "multi-state GIS Cloud computing RFI" (ppt) but is this tied to the sandbox? The NGAC seems to be suggesting one thing; the FGDC is perhaps involved in something different. Shouldn't there by more synergy?

Final example: Workforce development: Develop recommendations on how FGDC can engage in and support geospatial workforce development activities, including the following:

NGAC directive...

  • Investigate collaboration opportunities with the Department of Labor on geospatial workforce development to document gaps between needs and projected workforce, estimating the workforce demand, and methods for closing the gaps
  • Investigate opportunities to build on the efforts from the NRC Study on the Future US Workforce for Geospatial Intelligence, or other Federal initiatives

The report from the Department of Labor on workforce needs is well documented and was reported last year by the committee working on the Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM). I'm surprised that the FGDC did not reference the GTCM results, which will have a profound impact on our industry. The recommendations coming out of the FGDC should have been to take the GTCM, develop guidelines for government employment of geospatial technologists and initiate grants to support universities in funding scholarships to attract students to build the workforce. That's the kind of specifics we need to hear...not "investigate opportunities..." We know what the opportunities are; now let's figure out what to do.

There will be some that will read this and suggest I'm taking elements out of context but I would suggest that from an external perspective, the reports and initiatives that are made publicly available are either deliberately vague or incomplete. I recommend to the NGAC and to the FGDC to do a better job of informing the geospatial community about their progress. Merely stating that their meetings are open to the public is not enough and publishing reports that leave questions does not foster the important work of the organization.

Published Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Written by Joe Francica

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