GeoWorld August 2013

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GIS Professionals Affect (and Are Affected by) Public Policy PUBLIC POLICY PARTICIPATION A s GIS products become mainstream, GIS professional practice is increasingly affected by public policies. The world beyond our professional expertise is using (and sometimes misusing) GIS work products; it's regulating (and sometimes mis-regulating) GIS professional practice; and it's supporting (and sometimes withholding support for) the infrastructure that enables us to work our magic. GIS professionals have specific expertise that can inform important public-policy decisions, so it's no longer BY BRUCE JOFFE enough to "keep our heads down" and focus on technical issues. Individually and collectively through professional organizations, we must monitor and advocate for public action. In this series of columns, I'll review some of the geospatial public-policy issues our community can and must organize around; for if we don't voice our concerns, others' interests will surely prevail. I also invite GeoWorld readers to send in their public-policy concerns. This month's column looks at a bill introduced in Congress that would affect the collection and use of federal geospatial data. Government Efficiency Funded by Data Sales? Bruce Joffe is the principal of GIS Consultants; e-mail: GIS.Consultants@ 30 Who could argue with the so-called "Map It Once, Use It Many Times Act" that promises to reduce the waste of governmental mapping redundancy? H.R. 1604 ( house-bill/1604/text) would establish a National Geospatial Technology Administration, combining several federal agencies, "to enhance the use of geospatial data, products, technology and services," and "increase the economy and efficiency of federal geospatial activities." Introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and promoted by the Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors, this proposed law would require the federal government to do the following: Does this bill intend to compile all federal geospatial data into one database? Is that realistic or practicable? G E O W O R L D / A U G U S T 2 O 1 3 Is this best for the public interest? Are there reasons why the federal government should maintain its own independent geospatial activities? This is troubling, because if the federal government purchases licensed data and signs a non-distribution license, that would restrict public access to government data under the Freedom of Information Act. What does this imply? Subsidies or tax breaks for private geospatial firms? This isn't the only funding method mentioned, but looking at it with political realism, it likely would be instituted, thereby limiting public access to government data. GIS professionals need to stay alert to legislative proposals that would require the federal government to charge a fee to users of geospatial data and GPS signals as well as limit public access due to private licensing restrictions. Fees and licenses impede the public's access to the data our government uses to make decisions that affect our lives. Without unfettered transparency, how can citizens hold our government agencies accountable to us, the people they're supposed to serve? There may be good reasons why different agencies contract for different mapping of the same area: differing requirements for accuracy, precision, sensing spectrum, features to be compiled and update timing. How are all those aspects to be reconciled with a "map once" requirement? Admittedly, some duplication could be eliminated, but many apparent "duplications" are actually a response to different requirements. Until Next Column My ongoing advice: Be aware, get knowledge and participate—whether through individual communication and action, or collectively by joining an interest group or steering your professional association to advocate a public stand. Compared with all the "non-geospatial" professionals in the world, geospatial professionals are a very small group. But when we get involved and work together, our shared expertise just might help make the world a bit better.

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