Interior rebuffs GAO qualms, runs portal for geospatial data

'In six months, we've gone from fantasy to reality with the portal.' 'Interior's Scott Cameron

Henrik G. DeGyor

Even as the General Accounting Office questioned its value, the Interior Department launched the first version of its Geospatial One-Stop portal late last month.

Linda Koontz, GAO's director of information management issues, told the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census earlier in the month that unless Interior can get federal, state and local agencies to agree to data standards, the portal will be of limited use.

'Agencies have developed their own systems and standards, and to move to a new one could be costly,' she said. 'Until the long-term challenges of data standardization are addressed, the goal of a single, coordinated nationwide system will remain hard to reach.'

Interior unveiled the portal, at www.geodata.gov, during the Intergovernmental Policy Congress'Technology and Homeland Security conference in Washington.

Journey begins

'The portal will breathe life into the geospatial marketplace,' said Scott Cameron, deputy assistant secretary of Interior for performance and management. 'The portal will help us create hundreds, if not thousands, of partnerships to get the geospatial data we need. This is the first big step down a long road.'

But the road could be littered with failures, Koontz said at the hearing. She said it is similar to past efforts, which failed to create a clearinghouse of information or gain user acceptance.

Interior and its partner agencies need a long-term strategy to address the lack of data standards and foster greater participation from state and local governments, Koontz said.

But Cameron told lawmakers that the portal's developers disagree with GAO's assessment.

State and local governments have been involved through organizations such as the Western Governors Association, National League of Cities and National States Geographic Information Council, Cameron said.

Plus, data standards for 11 areas are being tested throughout the country to ensure acceptance, he said.

'The Geospatial One-Stop project will support access to federal government and other geospatial data assets,' Cameron said. 'It will provide the building blocks for the development and implementation of a national system for integrating spatial data.'

Mark Forman, the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for e-government and IT, also defended the project.

'In the 1990s, there was no standardization process,' Forman told lawmakers. 'This is a bottom-up approach.'

Through the project, one of the 25 Quicksilver e-government initiatives, the government wants to provide federal, state and local agencies with access to geographic information systems data and eliminate duplicative GIS buys.

The portal lets users search for geospatial data, such as land elevation and transportation networks, by region, state or county.

Interior awarded a one-year contract worth between $300,000 and $400,000 to ESRI of Redlands, Calif., for a prototype. The test system will let agencies push and pull data from servers across the country, Cameron said. Users also will be able to make maps by layering data.

Eight states have populated the database so far, and the portal could add another 17 by the end of the year, said Hank Garie, executive director of Geospatial One-Stop.

'In six months, we've gone from fantasy to reality with the portal,' Cameron said. 'We were pushing hard to get this done quickly. I imagine there will be another separate procurement in about a year for the next version.'

Project officials are testing sets of standards in hydrography, orthoimagery, elevation and other areas. Cameron said work will begin on 26 more standards shortly.

Catalog of the source

Interior is putting together an electronic card catalog of geospatial data sets that includes ownership information whether federal, state or local, and a description of the data set, he said.

Two other e-government projects also will use the portal, Cameron said. Recreation One-Stop will use the portal for that initiative's mapping function, and the Disaster Management project will use it to make sure its maps are up-to-date.

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