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National Geospatial Advisory Committee: The Shape of Geo to Come

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World Map 1689 — No. 1 from user caveman_92223 on <a href="">Flickr</a>.
World Map 1689 — No. 1 from user caveman_92223 on Flickr.

Back in late June I attended the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) meeting here in DC. NGAC is a Federal Advisory Committee sponsored by the Department of the Interior under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The committee is composed of (mostly) non-federal representatives from all sectors of the geospatial community and features very high profile participants. For example, ESRI founder Jack Dangermond, the 222nd richest American, has been a member since the committee was first chartered in 2008 (his term has since expired). Current committee members include the creator of Google Earth (Michael Jones) and the founder of OpenStreetMap (Steve Coast).

So what is the committee interested in, and how does it coincide with what the digital stewardship community is interested in? There are number of noteworthy points of intersection:

  • In late March of this year the FGDC released the “National Geospatial Data Asset Management Plan – a Portfolio Management Implementation Plan for the OMB Circular A–16” (pdf). The plan “lays out a framework and processes for managing Federal NGDAs [National Geospatial Data Assets] as a single Federal Geospatial Portfolio in accordance with OMB policy and Administration direction. In addition, the Plan describes the actions to be taken to enable and fulfill the supporting management, reporting, and priority-setting requirements in order to maximize the investments in, and reliability and use of, Federal geospatial assets.”
  • Driven by the release of the NGDA Management Plan, a baseline assessment of the “maturity” of various federal geospatial data assets is currently under way. This includes identifying dataset managers, identifying the sources of data (fed only/fed-state partnerships/consortium/etc.) and determining the maturity level of the datasets across a variety of criteria. With that in mind, several “maturity models” and reports were identified that might prove useful for future work in this area. For example, the state of Utah AGRC has developed a one-page GIS Data Maturity Assessment; the American Geophysical Union has a maturity model for assessing the completeness of climate data records (behind a paywall, unfortunately); the National States Geographic Information Council has a Geospatial Maturity Assessment; and the FGDC has “NGDA Dataset Maturity Annual Assessment Survey and Tool” that is being developed as part of their baseline assessment These maturity models have a lot in common with the NDSA Levels of Preservation work.
  • Lots of discussion on a pair of reports on big data and geolocation privacy. The first, Big Data – Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values Report from the Executive Office of the President, acknowledges the benefits of data but also notes that “big data technologies also raise challenging questions about how best to protect privacy and other values in a world where data collection will be increasingly ubiquitous, multidimensional, and permanent.” The second, the PCast report on Big Data and Privacy (PCAST is the “President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology” and the report is officially called “Big Data: A Technology Perspective”) “begins by exploring the changing nature of privacy as computing technology has advanced and big data has come to the forefront.  It proceeds by identifying the sources of these data, the utility of these data — including new data analytics enabled by data mining and data fusion — and the privacy challenges big data poses in a world where technologies for re-identification often outpace privacy-preserving de-identification capabilities, and where it is increasingly hard to identify privacy-sensitive information at the time of its collection.” The importance of both of these reports to future library and archive collection and access policies regarding data can not be understated.
  • The Spatial Data Transfer Standard is being voted on for withdrawal as an FGDC-endorsed standard. FGDC maintenance authority agencies were asked to review the relevance of the SDTS, and they responded that the SDTS is no longer used by their agencies. There’s a Federal Register link to the proposal. The Geography Markup Language (GML), which the FGDC has endorsed, now satisfies the encoding requirements that SDTS once provided. NARA revised their transfer guidance for geospatial information in April 2014 to make SDTS files “acceptable for imminent transfer formats” but it’s clear that they’ve already moved away from them.  As a side note, GeoRSS is coming up for a vote soon to become an FGDC-endorsed standard.
  • The Office of Management and Budget is reevaluating the geospatial professional classification. The geospatial community has an issue similar to that being faced by the library and archives community, in that the jobs are increasingly information technology jobs but are not necessarily classified as such. This coincides with efforts to reevaluate the federal government library position description.
  • The Federal Geographic Data Committee is working with federal partners to make previously-classified datasets available to the public.  These datasets have been prepared as part of the “HSIP Gold” program. HSIP Gold is a compilation of over 450 geospatial datasets of U.S. domestic infrastructure features that have been assembled from a variety of Federal agencies and commercial sources. The work of assembling HSIP Gold has been tasked to the Homeland Infrastructure Foundation-Level Data (HIFLD) Working Group (say it as “high field”). Not all of the data in HSIP Gold is classified, so they are working to make some of the unclassified portions available to the public.

The next meeting of the NGAC is scheduled for September 23 and 24 in Shepherdstown, WV. The meetings are public.

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