Three Geospatial Proposals and U.S. Economic Stimulus: Background and Status

By Directions Staff

In the past few weeks three proposals, which address a place for geospatial technology and the development of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure in the possible U.S. government stimulus efforts, became public.

Directions Magazine
posed these questions to those behind the efforts.
  1. Before it was posted to the Web, to whom was the proposal sent for review, if anyone?
  2. Was the proposal sent to, or formally presented to, any members of the U.S. Congress or their staff? If so, please share with whom and when.
  3. What current efforts are underway to further the acceptance and inclusion of your proposal into the stimulus package? Are you looking for endorsements? Letters of support to congresspeople?
The following sections include each proposal's title, link to full text, a short excerpt to identify key ideas, along with the names of the respondents and the responses, with minimal editing. A list of contributors/authors of each proposal is in the documents.

A Proposal for National Economic Recovery: An Investment in Geospatial Information Infrastructure Building a National GIS (pdf)

From the proposal:
This is the moment for America to build a national geographic information system (GIS) that is, a unified, up-to-date, publicly accessible national digital map, enriched with data from all available sources and supported by GIS technology. This system can be built quickly, immediately creating high-tech jobs, and will serve as a public resource for project planners to support transportation infrastructure, water resource management, alternative energy research, and project siting. It will also provide a foundation for monitoring the U.S. economic recovery across our communities, allowing activities to get under way as soon as possible and leaving a legacy for the future.
Response to Directions Magazine's three questions from: Jack Dangermond, ESRI, and Anne Hale Miglarese, Booz Allen Hamilton
Background to our Paper:

At the end of last year the Obama administration made it clear they would like to take swift action to stimulate a recovery. The result was a rapid assembly of projects by Congress that were deemed to provide fast economic value. By the last week of December a long list of candidates were assembled and review by Congressional members began. At that time there was virtually no consideration of geospatial projects of any kind. It occurred to several of us that this could be the time to promote the value of geospatial information and accelerate the vision of a broad scale GIS for the nation. The challenge was to quickly articulate the value of using the stimulus package to build a national GIS that would create jobs in the mapping and geospatial community in the very short term and provide valuable spatial data infrastructure for longer term benefits.

In light of the 'now or never' timeline laid out by the administration and Congress, we drafted the proposal in very early January and vetted it with several dozen government representatives and a few professional associations. Modifications were made based on this input and we began to share it with Congress, racing to capture interest and support before the stimulus bill was finalized. Simultaneously, the proposal was shared across the GIS community seeking and receiving input and endorsements from a number of NGOs, professional associations, academics and international groups. These efforts continue and many organizations have sent letters of support to members of Congress. Additional endorsements and assistance in educating our nation's leaders on the wide reaching benefits of this proposal are welcomed. This information is being updated and is available on a public website.

Given the short time frame, our paper proposed funding of a series of data-focused government programs that had already been discussed in varying levels of detail by the GIS community (imagery for the nation, parcels for the nation, LIDAR for the nation, the National Map, etc.) that could be quickly contracted with the private sector mapping companies and would result in information that could immediately help with the other infrastructure projects envisioned by other stimulus efforts.

Our efforts were constrained by the very small amount of time we had to react. As a result we are sure there are shortfalls and omissions. For this we apologize to the geospatial community. We tried to incorporate what people have been discussing for years. Undoubtedly, if Congress does see its way to fund these kinds of efforts, the geospatial community and various government entities will need to determine the specific policies and priorities of what gets done. But our sense is we will need to move quickly.

The recent release of two additional proposals promoting similar missions reinforces and strengthens the message of the importance that GIS and geospatial data can play in our economic recovery. We certainly have no pride of ownership regarding our particular version and welcome all efforts. At this time, to capitalize on the enthusiasm and momentum, the community will need to quickly come together to coalesce the proposals, to amplify the common ground and speak with one consistent voice.

What do we see as results?

While the House bill has allocated a few hundred million dollars to USGS and mentioned The National Map as an overall program for accommodating a National GIS, the Senate bill has not. We urge all people in the geospatial community to contact their legislators with their support regarding these initiatives.
A Concept for American Recovery and Reinvestment NSDI 2.0: Powering our National Economy, Renewing our Infrastructure, Protecting our Environment (pdf)

From the proposal:
An "NSDI 2.0" will leave the country with a public resource, a national spatial data infrastructure that will become a foundation for new business and technology investment - including broadband infrastructure development efforts now under consideration. Most importantly, this network provides a sustainable information infrastructure and investment in innovation that will create thousands of new jobs and contribute to the economy for many years to come...The NSDI 2.0 is a network implemented as a series of online services providing high-speed access to mapping and environmental content. The standards-based "online service provider" model of NSDI 2.0 mitigates traditional barriers associated with accessing and manipulating information.
Response to Directions Magazine's three questions from: Jeff Harrison
The NSDI 2.0 Concept Paper was developed by a collaborative grassroots coalition and offers a plan to create jobs by developing an online environmental and geospatial information network to support road, bridge, electric grid and school rebuilding projects. Prior to public release of the NSDI 2.0 paper on January 23, 2009, it was sent to representatives from OGC, FGDC, EPA, NGAC, URISA and other organizations. Comments were received from individuals in several of these organizations. The comments were positive and several asked for adjustments to the concept paper to improve the message. After comments were added, updates were sent back to the organizations. The group also sent the concept paper by email to some members' local congressional districts and Senate offices prior to release. The group decided to release the first version of the Concept Paper by a consensus voting process with initial release to the public on January 23. The group also established the website at this time. After the NSDI 2.0 Concept Paper's release the group notified additional government, environmental, mapping, and broadband Internet organizations about the paper. Additional parties expressed an interest in helping and were added as authors. A new version of the paper was issued on Monday, January 26, 2009. The group intends to establish a collaborative web discussion site for maintenance of the concept paper over time, and welcomes contributions and participation. The group also intends to discuss the ideas in the paper with government organizations, and hopes to participate in the larger national spatial data infrastructure discussion.
A Proposal for Reinvigorating the American Economy Through Investment in the US National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) (pdf)

From the proposal:
An investment in building the US National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) will provide immediate benefits to the American ICT industry, including the seeding of new technologies, businesses and offspring industries. The collection and processing of geospatial data is a "shovel ready" activity able immediately to create jobs, though the shovels in this case comprise a wide range of geospatial technologies and tools for infrastructure design and modeling used by a large, nation-wide community of professionals....Consequently, it is clear that creation of an effective NSDI can only result from two distinct but related programs of activity: a data/metadata collection and hosting effort which needs to begin as soon as possible; and, coordinated with it, a comprehensive planning process designed to consolidate the past successes and current activities of those organizations most concerned with building the NSDI and active in promoting its development over the last two decades.
Response to Directions Magazine's three questions from: Michael Jones, Google
(1) Before it was posted to the Web, to whom was the proposal sent for review, if anyone?

Generally speaking, the "Proposal for Reinvigorating the American Economy" is the result of needs discussions with national policymakers, staff within Federal, State, and Local governments, organizers of industry advocacy groups, business leaders in the geospatial industry, and contacts in Presidential transition teams and the new administration. In particular, it was the transition team that explained the ground rules for useful stimulus activities (items already vetted, broadly approved and basically lacking nothing but funding - items like Imagery for the Nation).

My personal sense is that we all were concerned that the Congress and Administration understand what we believe to be self-evident truths:
  • That geospatial technology is part (physically) and parcel (legally) of every proposed infrastructure activity; it is not something to do in isolation, rather it is something inherently part of every agency's activity.
  • That geospatial data is the basis of the geospatial reward and thus the main area for investment; start flying/measuring/gathering now and start hosting /publishing/sharing now. Break down the existing barriers to benefit, don't reinforce them through misguided expenditure.
  • That innovation - like the Web, HTML, SQL and decades of computing have shown - happens best where there are standards for data sharing (through ISO, OGC) followed by a diverse set of products and services supporting those standards.
The motivation for the proposal was the concern that ideas might otherwise be promoted to Congress and the administration as broadly held perceptions of the geospatial field on how to best help American citizens, when in fact they were more narrowly held views with possibly a different goal in mind.

(2) Was the proposal sent to, or formally presented to, any members of the U.S. Congress or their staff? If so, please share with whom and when.

Discussions have been, and are, underway at this time across every level of government.

(3) What current efforts are underway to further the acceptance and inclusion of your proposal into the stimulus package? Are you looking for endorsements? Letters of support to congresspeople?

Genuine expressions of support are helpful to policymakers as they grapple with the urgency of the moment while avoiding proposals that are misaligned with the nation's priorities. The most troubling case is when there is a single proposal on the table and industry groups, lacking a line item veto, are uncomfortably forced to embrace bad parts as the only way to advocate for the good. The solution, as in an election, is multiple choices with clearly articulated goals.

We have focused our broad-based, shared proposal on what we believe meets the stimulus mandate of the administration, further enables geospatial technologies to assist in America's economic rebound, and avoids using the economic crisis to our own business advantage. We welcome the support - directly to Congress or through any of us - of the entire geospatial community in advocating the importance of these themes and the peril of ignoring them.

This is the time for the geospatial community to serve our nation.

Published Friday, February 6th, 2009

Written by Directions Staff

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