GSA, agencies create common 'landing zone' for geospatial data

The General Services Administration is working with several federal agencies to provide a common, cloud-based infrastructure where agencies can access geospatial data, in an effort to lower storage costs and reduce duplication.

GSA recently entered into an agreement with the Agriculture and Interior departments as well as the Environmental Protection Agency to move geospatial data from the geodata.gov portal into data.gov, said David McClure, associate administrator with GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

“The reason for that is we can be a common infrastructure provider of the data rather than it being duplicated and stored in many places around the government,” he said. “Everybody has been looking for a common landing zone for geospatial data,” McClure said.

“That will achieve some efficiency in terms of how agencies access geospatial data,” McClure told reporters after a keynote address on the government’s cloud-first strategy at a federal executive briefing held by 1105 Media’s Federal Computer Week in Washington, D.C., Nov. 29. Federal Computer Week is Government Computer News’ sister publication.


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Geospatial systems capture, store, analyze, manage and present datasets linked to locations. GIS is used everywhere, such as for protecting natural resources, providing public safety, redistricting political boundaries, drawing school districts, taxing entities and managing transportation.

Geodata.gov was designed to provide one-stop Web access to geospatial information under the Geospatial One-Stop project, an E-government initiative managed by the U.S. Geological Service.

However since data.gov has been migrated to a cloud computing platform, there is sufficient capacity to provide provisioning services and flexibility to expand the platform if needed, McClure said.

Agencies will still run their own applications and build their specialized applications to meet the needs of their mission areas. Third-party or commercial providers could link their services into the platform, or agencies can build their own software, McClure noted.

“There was a lot of consultation with Interior, EPA and USDA because they are the users of information,” McClure said. GSA is not a big geospatial user, but, “We just felt we could provide a common service that they could then maximize the investment in a much better way.”

State governments are also looking to corral the costs of storing their geographic information system data.

For example, Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Utah are looking to issue a request for proposals for a commercial cloud storage provider to host the states’ GIS data instead of each state negotiating its own separate contract. The states have expressed interest in federal agencies joining the consortium, a move that would considerably lower the cost of processing and storing GIS data for all members.

The federal government is aware of various states’ interest in working with the federal agencies, McClure said. GSA has spoken to officials with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and state CIOs, he noted.

With government geospatial data, multiple users often define specifications and requirements differently. So they have to collect their own data to find the datasets built to their needs. “So you have to be as transparent as you can be. We have made it clear to NASCIO or state CIOs if they can find value in using this, then we will work out the arrangements to accommodate them,” McClure said.

Moving geospatial data to data.gov is also causing GSA to rethink whether to issue a blanket purchase agreement with vendors to provide geospatial information as a cloud service, as it as done for infrastructure-as-a-service and e-mail.

There have been discussions within GSA and with the Office of Management and Budget on how to create acquisition vehicles that are conducive to cloud computing. If the government is not designing existing contract vehicles that make it is easier to procure cloud services, then new ones need to be created. If GSA does create a new contract vehicle then it has to be consistent with demand.

Whether or not geospatial information needs a new contract vehicle or if issues have been solved by parking it on data.gov is something that the government is sorting through now, McClure said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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