Geospatial spending still a mystery to agencies

Rep. Adam Putnam says OMB might need to establish a new geospatial information office to coordinate GIS governmentwide.

J. Adam Fenster

Lawmakers push OMB for better data, management

Lawmakers have urged the Office of Management and Budget to rein in agency spending on geographic information systems and increase oversight after OMB could not accurately assess how much the government spends on GIS nor guarantee that agencies were not duplicating data.

Administration officials are concerned that agencies could be spending billions of dollars a year on redundant geospatial purchases.

Rep. Adam Putnam, chairman of the Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census, said agencies are ignoring the benefits of GIS data sharing. The Florida Republican said OMB might need to establish a geospatial information management office for governmentwide coordination.

The administration does not support such an office, said Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for IT and e-government, but she said the CIO Council is in the late stages of deciding whether each agency should name a single point of contact to control its geospatial data.

'We need to get to the issue of accountability and managing information strategically,' Evans said at a hearing late last month. 'This very well could be similar to what we did under the Federal Information Security Management Act.'

Lawmakers' talk of changing geospatial policy came after OMB for a second straight year could not tell the subcommittee how much agencies spend on geospatial information or how much of the spending is duplicative.

Evans told the subcommittee that her office still cannot come up with 'good, solid numbers.'
Last year, Mark Forman, then OMB's e-government chief, estimated that agencies spend about $4 billion a year to collect and manage geospatial information, and that about half the spending was redundant.

Evans would not reaffirm that number, but she said new budgetary requirements should clarify how much agencies are spending and what is duplicative.

'Most of the geospatial information spending is not reported separately,' Evans said. 'We need that to occur to figure out how much we are spending.'

In the fiscal 2006 budget guidance, Evans said, agencies must report all planned geospatial data purchases of more than $500,000 to the Geospatial One-Stop e-government project.

OMB also is requiring agencies to post all planned geospatial buys at the Geodata.gov portal. In addition, they must identify all geospatial information grant programs at Grants.gov, and must coordinate all grant program activities through the Geospatial One-Stop project team.

Evans said the release of the Federal Enterprise Architecture's Data Reference Model should help agencies determine the types of geospatial data they hold.

'With the release of the DRM, we intend to specifically talk about data ... so that agencies will know how to report those investments to us,' she said.

Linda Koontz, the General Accounting Office's director of information management, blamed poor OMB oversight and agency failure to comply with administration guidance as key reasons behind the duplication.

'Not good,' Putnam said of GAO's findings that agencies continue to buy and maintain geospatial information independently. His interest coincides with increased scrutiny of the issue by Congress. Several bills this session would give the Homeland Security Department more responsibility over geospatial data related to domestic defense.

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) have companion bills that would require DHS to set standards for governmentwide interoperability of geospatial information.
DHS is one of a handful of agencies with a geospatial information manager, which is the strategy OMB supports. Ryan Cast, DHS' geospatial information officer, had similar duties at the Immigration and Naturalization Service before it was folded into DHS.

'When investments come forward, one of the steps is a compliance check with the enterprise architecture,' said Cast, who has been in his position since DHS opened shop last year.

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