USGS Reorganizes Geospatial Technology Programs ...Is This Reorganization Focused on the Right Things?

By Joe Francica

USGS_8-25-04 Last week, Chip Groat, Director of the U.S.Geological Survey, consolidated certain geographic information technology functions under a new National Geospatial Programs Office (NGPO).Ostensibly, the reorganization will do the following:
  • Transfer The National Map from the Geography Discipline to the Geospatial Information Office (GIO), which will replace the Geography Information Office as of September 1, 2004.
  • The National Geospatial Programs Office (NGPO) will oversee the portfolio of national geospatial programs for which the USGS has responsibility, including the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), the Geospatial One Stop (GOS) project, the Department of the Interior Enterprise Geospatial Information Management activity and The National Map.
The Right Focus?
According to the press release, this reorganization was the result of recommendations from a report from the National Research Council, which stated that the USGS should "give higher priority to fundamental geographic research." I have a problem with this.For my tax dollars, that is not what I am paying the USGS to do.I'll explain further below.The press release went on to address the three areas for improvement:
  • Improving citizen involvement in decision making for issues related to natural sciences by creating citizen-friendly geographic interfaces with all the Survey's primary spatial datasets.
    • My take -- I don't think so. If by citizen involvement they mean better coordination with state and local all means, that's what should occur.But with what issues of research related to the natural sciences do they want the average citizen to partake? These sound like nice words so someone can create a pretty website.
  • Expanding the utility and application of place-based science by conducting integrative place-specific research in addition to topical research in individual disciplines.
    • My take -- What in the world does this statement mean? Ever since I worked for the USGS in the early 1980's I have always said they did not know how to market to the public.This statement is a prime example.Please, someone get an interpreter for government-speak.
  • Enhancing the effectiveness of decision-support systems with increased geographic input and more effective map-like products as output.
    • My take -- OK.I'll buy this one. Indeed, we need better support systems to get at the data, especially primary data sets as established in The National Map, and metadata schemas.
However, and in general, I do not see a recognition on the part of the USGS of two key missions for better geospatial data management: Economic Development and National Security.It is intrinsic and fundamental to the safety and prosperity of this country to push geospatial information to politicians, policy-makers, and citizens.I interviewed two elected officials recently (Mayor Jeremy Harris of Honolulu, and Governor Judy Martz of Montana) who probably have a better understanding of what is needed at the local level than some at the USGS.I suggest that Director Groat talk to one of these fine individuals.

Other Reorganization Initiatives
One element of the reorganization is to have The National Map and the GEODE project transferred to the NGPO to initiate a unified national geospatial data program.A good move since the two projects look redundant.In addition, the EROS Data Center, will be recognized as a national center, a move perhaps long overdue given the vast repository of digital land and satellite information that it possesses in its archives, not the mention the high quality of its scientific staff.Eastern and Central Regional Executives of Geography will be assigned to the NGPO and given the new title of Regional Executives for Geospatial Information.And in the biggest change of titles, the former Chief Geographic Information Officer (GIO) has been renamed as the Associate Director for Geospatial Information (ADGI).

The GIO title is one that ESRI president Jack Dangermond was fond of and one he has been pushing other organizations to adopt.I can only assume the name change was in part to conform to other naming conventions established with this reorganization.We "geo-philes" would love to see a GIO appointed in major corporations as a recognition of the importance of geographic information in business, but it is unlikely to ever happen. However, at the USGS it made a lot of sense.Does the name change reflect a change of mission or mere conformity? What do you think?

The Real Reason for Change at the USGS
More than likely, the real shake up at the USGS was a feeling by the director that geography, as a scientific discipline, wasn't being taken seriously enough.The National Research Council said as much.He now wants to put more focus on developing geography research as headed by the new ADGI.But is this really necessary? Geography is much more of an applied science.GIS technology is giving us more opportunities to use land and infrastructure data in profoundly unique ways.So, to me, these changes are not well enough defined in terms of the mission of the USGS, its associated national centers, and the new research it intends to conduct. Perhaps we can hear from the USGS to further clarify these changes.I offer this space to ADGI Karen Siderelis and Associate Director for Geography,Barb Ryan, to do so, as well as Director Groat.

Published Thursday, August 26th, 2004

Written by Joe Francica

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