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Feds Can't Account for Geospatial Spending

The federal government doesn't know how much it is spending on geospatial systems according to Mark Forman, the chief administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology.

Forman estimated the annual expenditure to be in the range of $4 billion dollars but said as much as 50 percent of that annual investment may be wasted, due at least in part to duplication of effort by agencies; redundant systems; multiple acquisitions of the same data; lack of agency coordination and cooperation; and a failure to agree on a common set of standards for the data itself.

Geographic information systems (GIS) manipulate, analyze and graphically present an array of information associated with geographic locations. According to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report released Tuesday in conjunction with an oversight hearing conducted by the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, the federal government has tried for years to reduce duplicative geospatial data collection by coordinating GIS activities before within and outside the government.

"Although efforts to build the National Spatial Data Infrastructure program are progressing, achieving the vision of nationwide GIS network remains a formidable challenge," the GAO report states. "Developing standards that meet stakeholders' needs remains a challenging and time consuming task, and achieving full participation across governments in their development has been difficult."

Forman said at least 40 agencies has its own individual program for geospatial data collection and usage.

According to Forman and Scott Cameron, deputy assistant secretary for performance and management at the Department of Interior, these issues will be addressed by the Geospatial One-Stop Project, which is one of the 24 E-government initiatives being pursued as part of the President's Management Reform Agenda. Interior is the managing partner for the Geospatial One-Stop Project and Cameron is the project director.

Rep. Adam Putnam (R.-Fla.), chairman of the House subcommittee, pledged to provide "aggressive oversight" to identify examples of waste, and to work with the administration to facilitate reforms. Putnam also committed to examining the role of the private sector, along with state and local governments, who collectively own more than two-thirds of the relevant data, to be participating partners in achieving the desired outcomes.

"I embrace the Geospatial One-Stop initiative and commend the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of the Interior for their leadership on this important project," Putnam said. "We must solve the management and federal government cultural issues that continue to serve as impediments to real progress and cost savings."