Geospatial Data Targeted by Government Budget Watchdogs

Geospatial Data Targeted by Government Budget Watchdogs

Billions spent on collecting and disseminating geospatial data — which sits at the core of modern catastrophe modelling, underwriting and management– is becoming the target of federal and congressional leaders and they seek to tighten government purse strings.

In the past week a bill titled the Geospatial Data Act of 2015 was introduced in the U.S. Senate that targets government spending on data collection. Separately, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report arguing that many U.S. geospatial efforts are “duplicative” and that billions spent on collecting data can be reduced significantly.

“Duplication of geospatial data can waste resources; create fragmented and conflicting data sets (in cases where different collection efforts gather outdated or poorly geocoded data); and in some cases where having the correct address data is critical, such as in providing emergency services, risk lives,” the GAO report states.

Use of geospatial data — which is essentially the measurement of natural geographical boundaries combined with other data sets like location or population —  has become a multi-billion annual bill for the federal government, especially for multiple agencies that follow natural hazards like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

While the GAO report states that currently spending on geospatial data is “understated” because not all corners of the government are accurately tracking their spending, it is likely in the “billions of dollars.”

The report recommends an overhaul of the government’s approach to the data, including consolidating contracts, increases oversight and the creating of a “national geospatial address database. “

“Without a national imagery program that incorporates the needs [of] all levels of governments, increasingly scarce resources will not be spent efficiently and effectively in obtaining data critical to the missions and operations of our federal, state, and local governments,” the report states.

Following release of the report, U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced “Implement international consensus standards, assist in eliminating duplication, avoid redundant expenditures, accelerate the development of electronic government to meet the needs and expectations of citizens and agency programmatic mandates, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public management.

The bill also calls for a  definition for geospatial data and metadata.

“The federal government is the largest purchaser of geospatial data but some very basic questions about how and where agencies are already investing in this data can’t be answered. Our bill would bring transparency and accountability to the collection of this data and ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being wasted on duplicative efforts,” Warner said in a statement.


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