Geospatial Information:

Technologies Hold Promise for Wildland Fire Management, but Challenges Remain

GAO-03-1047: Published: Sep 23, 2003. Publicly Released: Sep 23, 2003.

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Over the past decade, a series of devastating and deadly wildland fires has burned millions of acres of federal forests, grasslands, and deserts each year, requiring federal land management agencies to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fight them. GAO was asked to assess opportunities to improve the way agencies manage fires through the use of geospatial information technologies, specifically, to (1) identify key geospatial information technologies for addressing different aspects of managing wildland fires, (2) summarize key challenges to the effective use of geospatial technologies in managing wildland fires, and (3) identify national opportunities to improve the effective use of geospatial technologies.

Geospatial information technologies--sensors, systems, and software that collect, manage, manipulate, analyze, model, and display information about locations on the earth's surface--can aid in managing wildland fires by providing accurate, detailed, and timely information to federal, state, and local decision makers; fire-fighting personnel; and the public. This information can be used to help reduce the risk that a fire will become uncontrollable, to respond to critical events while a fire is burning, and to aid in recovering from fire disasters. However, there are multiple challenges to effectively using these technologies to manage wildland fires, including challenges with data, systems, infrastructure, staffing, and the effective use of new products. The National Wildfire Coordinating Group--composed of representatives from the five land management agencies and from other federal, state, and tribal organizations--has several initiatives under way to address specific challenges, but progress on these initiatives has been slow, and not all of the challenges are being addressed. A root cause of many of these challenges is the lack of an overall strategy guiding interagency management of information resources and technology. To improve interagency management of information resources and technology, different teams within the Coordinating Group plan to establish an interagency geospatial strategic plan, a strategy for information resources management, and an interagency enterprise architecture--a blueprint for operational and technical change in support of wildland fire management. However, these efforts lack the seniorlevel endorsement and detailed plans and milestones necessary for success. Until effective interagency management of information resources and technology is a priority, the wildland fire community will likely continue to face challenges in effectively using geospatial information technologies. Effectively using geospatial information is of interest beyond the wildland fire management community. Detailed, accurate, and accessible geospatial information is critical in addressing homeland security and national preparedness, supporting our transportation infrastructure, and managing natural resources, among other activities. For decades, the federal government has tried to reduce duplicative geospatial data collection by coordinating activities inside and outside the federal government. Most recently, Geospatial One-Stop, one of 25 high profile e-government initiatives sponsored by the Office of Management and Budget, was initiated to develop national geospatial data standards and an Internet portal for locating geospatial data. While this and other initiatives hold promise, achieving a nationwide network of geospatial data remains a formidable challenge. GAO focused on the five federal agencies that are primarily responsible for wildland fire management: the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and the Department of the Interior's National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Geospatial Task Group issued its interagency geospatial strategic plan in October 2006. This strategic plan addresses challenges in effectively using geospatial technologies, including issues associated with data, systems, infrastructure, staffing, the use of new products, and communications.

    Recommendation: In order to better manage the use of geospatial information in support of wildland fire management, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to endorse and oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to develop an interagency geospatial strategy for effectively using geospatial information technologies in all phases of wildland fire management. This geospatial strategy should address challenges to effectively using geospatial technologies, including issues associated with data, systems, infrastructure, staffing, and the use of new products.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Geospatial Task Group issued its interagency geospatial strategic plan in October 2006. This strategic plan addresses challenges in effectively using geospatial technologies, including issues associated with data, systems, infrastructure, staffing, the use of new products, and communications.

    Recommendation: In order to better manage the use of geospatial information in support of wildland fire management, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to endorse and oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to develop an interagency geospatial strategy for effectively using geospatial information technologies in all phases of wildland fire management. This geospatial strategy should address challenges to effectively using geospatial technologies, including issues associated with data, systems, infrastructure, staffing, and the use of new products.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Geospatial Task Group issued its interagency geospatial strategic plan in October 2006. This strategic plan includes overarching goals, detailed objectives, and planned strategies (deliverables) for attaining the objectives. However, the draft plan does not provide milestones for completing key deliverables.

    Recommendation: In order to better manage the use of geospatial information in support of wildland fire management, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to endorse and oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to develop an interagency geospatial strategy for effectively using geospatial information technologies in all phases of wildland fire management. This geospatial strategy should establish deliverables and milestones for completing key initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Geospatial Task Group issued its interagency geospatial strategic plan in October 2006. This strategic plan includes overarching goals, detailed objectives, and planned strategies (deliverables) for attaining the objectives. However, the draft plan does not provide milestones for completing key deliverables.

    Recommendation: In order to better manage the use of geospatial information in support of wildland fire management, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to endorse and oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to develop an interagency geospatial strategy for effectively using geospatial information technologies in all phases of wildland fire management. This geospatial strategy should establish deliverables and milestones for completing key initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The interagency Information Resource Management (IRM) strategic plan was issued in June 2005, the Interagency Geospatial Strategic Plan was issued in October 2006, and the interagency national wildland fire enterprise architecture is still in development. Understandably, the IRM strategic plan does not reference the geospatial strategic plan that was issued 16 months later. However, IRM officials noted that geospatial technologies are inherent in several IRM initiatives and their associated objectives. In addition, according to the Project Manager of the National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture, the enterprise architecture will include references to the interagency geospatial strategic plan in the EA Program Guidelines.

    Recommendation: In order to better manage the use of geospatial information in support of wildland fire management, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to endorse and oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to develop an interagency geospatial strategy for effectively using geospatial information technologies in all phases of wildland fire management. This geospatial strategy should be incorporated in interagency efforts to improve IT management, including the interagency IRM strategy and the interagency enterprise architecture effort.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The interagency Information Resource Management (IRM) strategic plan was issued in June 2005, the Interagency Geospatial Strategic Plan was issued in October 2006, and the interagency national wildland fire enterprise architecture is still under development. Understandably, the IRM strategic plan does not reference the geospatial strategic plan that was issued 16 months later. However, IRM officials noted that geospatial technologies are inherent in several IRM initiatives and their associated objectives. In addition, according to the Project Manager of the National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture, the enterprise architecture will include references to the interagency geospatial strategic plan in the EA Program Guidelines.

    Recommendation: In order to better manage the use of geospatial information in support of wildland fire management, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to endorse and oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to develop an interagency geospatial strategy for effectively using geospatial information technologies in all phases of wildland fire management. This geospatial strategy should be incorporated in interagency efforts to improve IT management, including the interagency IRM strategy and the interagency enterprise architecture effort.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior have established the Wildland Fire Leadership Council and the National Wildfire Coordinating Group to coordinate the interagency response to wildland fire. In March 2004, the Wildland Fire Leadership Council approved and signed the National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture Steering Group charter. The Steering Group's mission is to develop the national wildland fire enterprise architecture. Also, in May 2004, the interagency National Wildfire Coordinating Group approved the interagency IRM strategy and endorsed efforts to develop an IRM strategic plan.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure effective interagency IT management, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should immediately endorse development of an interagency IRM strategy and an enterprise architecture for wildland fire management.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior have established the Wildland Fire Leadership Council and the National Wildfire Coordinating Group to coordinate the interagency response to wildland fire. In March 2004, the Wildland Fire Leadership Council approved and signed the National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture Steering Group charter. The Steering Group's mission is to develop the national wildland fire enterprise architecture. Also, in May 2004, the interagency National Wildfire Coordinating Group approved the interagency IRM strategy and endorsed efforts to develop an IRM strategic plan.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure effective interagency IT management, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should immediately endorse development of an interagency IRM strategy and an enterprise architecture for wildland fire management.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Wildfire Coordinating Group finalized the Information Resource Management Strategic Plan in May 2005. The plan includes action items such as implementation goals and initiatives. However, the plan does not include a detailed implementation schedule.

    Recommendation: Further, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should ensure senior-level oversight by directing the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to establish detailed plans and schedules for implementing the interagency IRM strategy for wildland fire management.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Wildfire Coordinating Group finalized the Information Resource Management Strategic Plan in May 2005. The plan includes action items such as implementation goals and initiatives. However, the plan does not include a detailed implementation schedule.

    Recommendation: Further, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should ensure senior-level oversight by directing the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to establish detailed plans and schedules for implementing the interagency IRM strategy for wildland fire management.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  11. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In March 2004, the Wildland Fire Leadership Council established a steering group to develop a National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture (NWFEA). Since that time, this steering group delivered the first part of its enterprise architecture, a NWFEA business blueprint. Further, the steering group is currently working on the next part of its enterprise architecture, an NWFEA IT blueprint. However, the steering group has not yet issued a plan for developing the enterprise architecture. An NWFEA official estimated that the steering group would deliver a program plan that includes high level milestones by December 2007.

    Recommendation: Further, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should ensure senior-level oversight by directing the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to establish a detailed plan for developing the interagency enterprise architecture for wildland fire management, and ensure that it includes clear interim steps and implementation milestones.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  12. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In March 2004, the Wildland Fire Leadership Council established a steering group to develop a National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture (NWFEA). Since that time, this group delivered the first part of its enterprise architecture, a NWFEA business blueprint. Further, the steering group is currently working on the next part of its enterprise architecture, an NWFEA IT blueprint. However, the steering group has not yet issued a plan for developing the enterprise architecture. An NWFEA official estimated that the steering group would deliver a program plan that includes high level milestones by December 2007.

    Recommendation: Further, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should ensure senior-level oversight by directing the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to establish a detailed plan for developing the interagency enterprise architecture for wildland fire management, and ensure that it includes clear interim steps and implementation milestones.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to program officials, efforts are underway to improve the alignment between the interagency geospatial strategy, the interagency IRM strategy and the enterprise architecture effort. The geospatial strategy references both the IRM and enterprise architecture effort while the IRM strategy references both the geospatial work group and the enterprise architecture effort. Further, an official on the National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture (NWFEA) steering group reported that the NWFEA IT blueprint, due in December 2007, will address the geospatial issues and serve as input to the IRM strategy.

    Recommendation: Further, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should ensure senior-level oversight by directing the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to ensure that the interagency geospatial strategic plan and the interagency IRM strategy are integrated with the enterprise architecture for wildland fire management.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to program officials, efforts are underway to improve the alignment between the interagency geospatial strategy, the interagency IRM strategy and the enterprise architecture effort. The geospatial strategy references both the IRM and enterprise architecture effort while the IRM strategy references both the geospatial work group and the enterprise architecture effort. Further, an official on the National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture (NWFEA) steering group reported that the NWFEA IT blueprint, due in December 2007, will address the geospatial issues and serve as input to the IRM strategy.

    Recommendation: Further, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should ensure senior-level oversight by directing the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to ensure that the interagency geospatial strategic plan and the interagency IRM strategy are integrated with the enterprise architecture for wildland fire management.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  15. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture Steering Group expects to deliver an IT blueprint in December 2007. However, it is not yet clear how this architecture will be integrated with the various land management agencies' investment control processes.

    Recommendation: Further, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should ensure senior-level oversight by directing the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to establish a link between the architecture and the investment control processes at the land management agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  16. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture Steering Group expects to deliver an IT blueprint in December 2007. However, it is not yet clear how this architecture will be integrated with the various land management agencies' investment control processes.

    Recommendation: Further, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should ensure senior-level oversight by directing the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to establish a link between the architecture and the investment control processes at the land management agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  17. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture Steering Group expects to deliver key components of the Enterprise Architecture in December 2007. It is not yet clear how E-Government Act requirements and Federal Geographic Data Committee standards will be incorporated in the architecture.

    Recommendation: Further, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should ensure senior-level oversight by directing the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to ensure that the architecture incorporates E-Government Act requirements and national standards for geospatial data.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  18. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture Steering Group expects to deliver key components of the Enterprise Architecture in December 2007. It is not yet clear how E-Government Act requirements and Federal Geographic Data Committee standards will be incorporated in the architecture.

    Recommendation: Further, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should ensure senior-level oversight by directing the Wildland Fire Leadership Council to oversee the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's efforts to ensure that the architecture incorporates E-Government Act requirements and national standards for geospatial data.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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