GIS illustrates demographic data for USDA

GIS illustrates demographic data for USDA

BY PREETI VASISHTHA | GCN STAFF

Life is easier for employees at the Agriculture Department's Office of Community Development.

With the implementation of a geographic information system in September, 6,000 employees in 900 offices nationwide can pull up maps on their PCs to check project details and get a quick summary of changes.

Users can also compare the status of projects in all 50 states and every county instead of poring over lists of tables and numbers.

The system runs under Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 and Internet Information Server. It uses ArcIMS from Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif.


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face="Arial,Helvetica,Geneva" size="2" color="#FF0000">GIS makes project data easily available to thousands of Agriculture employees nationwide, USDA's J. Norman Reid says.OCD uses Microsoft Visual InterDev to develop the interface screens. The Compaq ProLiant map server has Pentium III Xeon processors, a SCSI-2 drive and 60G of memory.

'We are only in the first stages of our GIS plan,' said J. Norman Reid, OCD's associate deputy administrator, adding that the department is working on strengthening the project.

One such move will be to map the precise locations of the office's program investments.

'What we are doing is identifying the latitude and longitude of the location of each of our projects, such as health clinics, businesses, houses or water treatment plants,' Reid said. 'We can do this from the mailing address of the facility.'

Common denominators

ArcIMS will give the office the ability to overlay maps, such as those of high-poverty areas, with areas of high unemployment or flood plains.

'We can see the degree to which we are successful in targeting these investments to areas of high need or how closely they lie to areas of environmental sensitivity,' Reid said.

For instance, if OCD needs to find out whether the houses it finances are in high-poverty areas, it can display a map showing their location within a specific state or county, during a particular year or multiyear period. It can overlay a map that shades census tracts with high poverty rates. That lets employees see where the dots fall in relation to the shaded census tracts and shows whether the loans are concentrated in areas of highest need.

OCD has identified more than 100 areas for which to develop overlays, including disaster areas, flood plains, wetlands and hazardous waste sites.

'Instead of doing a policy analysis, we'll be doing it on the desktop itself,' Reid said.

For housing programs, the office will include details such as locations of houses and financing vendors and identify houses with late payments.

The office plans to make the information available to undersecretaries and secretaries in other federal agencies, as well as to the Office of Management and Budget, so personnel can cut and paste maps into reports.

Such a system could be useful to managers in every federal department, Reid said. For instance, the Education Department could view schools in relation to poverty areas or the number of universities nearby.

'GIS allows you to see program summary in a geographic way,' he said. 'It's difficult to identify numbers. But GIS is more intuitive and has an enormous amount of power.'

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