GIS technology meanders toward standardization

More and more government sites include geospatial data

'GIS is the glue for government management in the future.'

That's how Mark Forman, the Office of Management and Budget's associate director for IT and e-government, described geographic information systems at a conference earlier this year sponsored by ESRI of Redlands, Calif.

GIS 'has more executive-level support than virtually any other initiative of e-government,' Forman said. New York City's use of GIS after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks 'was briefed up and down the chain at the White House,' he said.

ESRI president Jack Dangermond said 30,000 government Web pages now use GIS to present data.

A new tool jointly developed by ESRI and MetaCarta Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., can map specific place names from text files, ESRI vice president Randy Ridley said. The product, unnamed so far, links ESRI's ArcGIS software with MetaCarta's Geographic Text Search Appliance.

Users can update the geospatial information in multiple 3-D maps. 'In our product, you do one search at a time,' Ridley said. 'The ESRI product lets you do searches on layers.'

He said that MetaCarta has a 'verbal commitment from an office in the Homeland Security Department' to deploy the product, and that In-Q-Tel, the nonprofit research arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, has invested in it.

USDA's model

ESRI holds a three-year blanket purchasing agreement with the Interior Department for enterprise licensing of the company's GIS products. The deal was modeled on a similar enterprise license for the Agriculture Department in October 2001, Interior CIO Hord Tipton said.

'It's standardizing us on software,' Tipton said, and 'getting a lot more product for the money.'
But Dennis Lytle, a GIS program manager at USDA, said that although enterprise licensing helps create standards for use, individual agencies and bureaus still have different needs.

Federal officials for years have been trying to standardize their geospatial tools. A Federal Geographic Data Committee working group late last year released a Geospatial Interoperability Reference Model for software design, requesting comments by early this month.

Geospatial One Stop, one of OMB's e-government projects, is supposed to coordinate GIS applications across federal, state and local lines. The Federal Geographic Data Committee has revised its guidance to agencies about complying with Modules 2 and 3 of the One Stop initiative.

Module 2 requires an inventory and documentation of existing framework data, requiring among other things that the data be accessible and searchable through the National Spatial Data Infrastructure Clearinghouse Network. For Module 3, agencies must inventory and document all proposed fiscal 2004 data collection activities costing $1 million or more.

Federal users at the conference said they use GIS in many ways, such as finding patterns in cross-border alien smuggling cases, mapping high-risk wildfire areas and analyzing international populations for global aid.

Less than 24 hours after the explosion of space shuttle Columbia, NASA and emergency officials said, they had received detailed maps of 27 counties around the debris area, rendered by the Stephen F. Austin State University GIS lab in Nacogdoches, Texas, and the Forest Resources Institute.

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