USGS Explores the Future

By Adena Schutzberg

It's old news that there is a reorganization going on at USGS.The new National Geospatial Programs Office (NGPO) was announced last year as the group that will manage national efforts including Geospatial One-Stop (geodata.gov), The National Map and the Federal Geographic Data Committee.It's also been announced that the mapping centers will be consolidated and lead from a National Geospatial Technical Operations Center (NGTOC).

NGPO Transition Status
The goal of pulling together the NGPO by June 2006 is daunting.USGS Associate Director for Geospatial Information Karen Siderelis announced a series of study teams last year to research specific areas and how they will fit into the new vision."These teams are charged to deliver reports identifying issues and alternative solutions for their respective areas." The teams have completed their work and have "stood down." Now they will act in an advisory capacity.

Their reports are being collected and reviewed.USGS plans to share the result of its many "listening sessions" and how it will respond to the issues raised in a series of briefings across the country in the coming month or so.Notes from one of those "listening sessions" are online.

In the most recent update report on the NGPO, Siderelis was quoted as thanking the NGPO Transition Team for its service.The update went on to detail current NGPO Leadership Team assignments:

Geospatial Information Office - Karen Siderelis, Associate Director for Geospatial Information, serves as the head of the National Geospatial Programs Office and Geographic Information Officer for the USGS.Within the GIO, a single organizational unit, Strategic and Business Planning, provides program planning and fiscal management of NGPO and the other business lines of the GIO.

National Geospatial Programs Office - Karen Siderelis provides leadership, coordination, and management of national geospatial assets.

Geospatial Coordination and Facilitation - Ivan DeLoatch provides oversight of existing Federal Geographic Data Committee, Partnerships and External Coordination function including matrixed management of State liaison functions, and Emergency Operations.

Geospatial Integration and Analysis - Hank Garie provides management of the existing Cooperative Topographic Mapping Program, including The National Map, The National Atlas, and Enterprise Engineering capabilities; the Geospatial One-Stop portal; the bureau's Enterprise Geographic Information Systems activity; and the Department of the Interior Enterprise Geographic Information Management activity.

National Geospatial Technical Operations Center - Max Ethridge, Acting Director, Field Operations oversees the national capability supporting all geospatial production activities and technical services of existing USGS mapping centers and such capabilities in other organizational components.

Coordination of National Geospatial Technical Operations Center with NGPO - Mark DeMulder, Headquarters Coordination, oversees development of business strategy and acts as the lead for scoping process as part of competitive sourcing.

National Geospatial Technical Operations Center Status
In a memorandum to selected USGS staff dated January 7, 2005 Siderelis outlined the vision for the National Geospatial Technical Operations Center: to bring together the skills of the five existing offices to save money and increase efficiency.The work of the Center would be parallel to that done now at the existing centers: "support all production activities and technical services associated with the NGPO, including the Cooperative Topographic Mapping Program, Federal Geographic Data Committee, Geospatial One Stop, and Interior Enterprise GIS."

The memo also noted that USGS Director Chip Groat had requested the development of a business strategy for the NGTOC.Siderelis tasked Mark DeMulder with conducting a Business Strategy Study and a Competitive Sourcing Study.The former would detail the organizational structure and functions of the NGTOC, first for the short term and then for the long term.The long term changes should be complete by late 2007 or early 2008.The Competitive Sourcing Study involves exploring the different options for doing the work currently done at the five centers.Might some of the work be dropped? Might some be done by the private sector?

Forgive a brief aside for those not familiar with government outsourcing.In order to put federal work out for bid by private contractors, the agency in question must work through a formal process that attempts to insure that the option is cost effective for the taxpayer.The process is referred to as A-76 cost comparison process, after the circular that defines it.The whole process takes about a year and if successful, results in a determination of whether services that are "commercial in nature" are best provided by the private sector, government personnel or another agency.A contract for the winner typically follows.

Before jumping in to that process, the agency interested in an A-76 effort has to "do its homework." That is, it needs to determine if the work in question is commercial in nature and if there are private firms or other agencies willing and able to take it on.That's why, as part of the Competitive Sourcing Study, a Request for Information was distributed to select companies in February.It essentially asked companies to respond if they might be interested in bidding on work currently done by USGS mapping center staff including producing maps, supporting geospatial standards and data model development and other tasks.The request was for the equivalent of work for 500 full-time people.(Interestingly, the government worked with a private company to send out the requests and collect the information.)

The results of the two studies are being compiled and will be shared with Siderelis and in the next week or so with Director Groat.No decisions have yet been made on going forward with an A-76 cost comparison.USGS representatives want to make that very clear.

My Take
One of the challenges of a government reorganization of this size is that it is a very public affair.Another is that the process of changing the heading and structure of the ship called USGS is slow and steady one, with small milestones along the way.That means that the big picture is difficult to see at any given time.Further, it means those in the trenches are unsure of where their job will end up, if they will simply end.At the NSGIC mid-year meeting a few weeks ago I sensed concern and a bit of confusion from junior and senior level USGS staff.

While the NGPO reorganization feels like a people and programs shuffle, hopefully one that will enhance the success of both, the potential of outsourcing 500 staff jobs has an immediate chilling effect within USGS.And, what of the private sector? I'm sure the potential of a contract of that size is interesting to many geospatial firms across the country.

My gut feeling, watching from the sidelines, is that such a comparison will indeed go forward.We in the geospatial community need to keep an eye on all of the reorganizations at USGS with two perspectives.First we need to be sure that the changes allow and enhance the important work of the agency.We, perhaps better than many day-to-day users of quad sheets understand the painstaking work and the money required to create and maintain and make available these data.Second, those of us in the U.S.need to be sure the country's tax dollars are being spent in the best way possible on the most important work possible.


Published Tuesday, April 5th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg



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