Geospatial Information:

OMB and Agencies Need to Make Coordination a Priority to Reduce Duplication

GAO-13-94: Published: Nov 26, 2012. Publicly Released: Nov 26, 2012.

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What GAO Found

While the President and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have established policies and procedures for coordinating investments in geospatial data, governmentwide committees and federal departments and agencies have not effectively implemented them. The committee that was established to promote the coordination of geospatial data nationwide--the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC)--has developed and endorsed key standards-- including a metadata standard that includes descriptive information about a particular set of geospatial data--and established a clearinghouse of metadata; however, the clearinghouse is not being used by agencies to identify planned geospatial investments to promote coordination and reduce duplication. The FGDC has not yet planned or implemented an approach to manage geospatial data as related groups of investments to allow agencies to more effectively plan geospatial data collection efforts and minimize duplicative investments; and its strategic plan is missing key elements, such as performance measures for many of its defined objectives. Further, none of the three federal departments in GAO's review have fully implemented important activities for coordinating geospatial data, such as preparing and implementing a strategy for advancing geospatial activities within their respective departments.

Further, the three agencies in GAO's review responsible for governmentwide management of specific geospatial data have implemented some but not all important activities for coordinating the national coverage of specific geospatial data. For example, only one agency has developed a plan for the nationwide population of the datasets under its responsibility, and none of the agencies have developed a plan to develop standards that facilitate the collection and sharing of geospatial data. Finally, while OMB has oversight responsibilities for geospatial data, OMB staff members acknowledged that OMB does not have complete and reliable information to identify potentially duplicative geospatial investments.

FGDC, federal departments and agencies, and OMB have not yet fully implemented policies and procedures for coordinating geospatial investments because these efforts have not been a priority. As a result, efforts to acquire data are uncoordinated and the federal government is acquiring duplicative geospatial data. For example, three agencies are independently acquiring road data, which is reported to have resulted in millions of wasted taxpayers' dollars. Unless OMB, the FGDC, and federal departments and agencies decide that coordinating geospatial investments is a priority, this situation will likely continue.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government collects, maintains, and uses geospatial information--information linked to specific geographic locations--to support many functions, including national security and disaster response. In 2012, the Department of the Interior (Interior) estimated that the federal government invests billions of dollars on geospatial data annually, and that duplication is common. GAO was asked to determine the extent to which the federal government has established and effectively implemented policies and procedures for coordinating its geospatial investments and avoiding duplication. To do so, GAO focused on FGDC coordination activities; efforts within the departments of Commerce, the Interior, and Transportation; and OMB oversight. GAO reviewed FGDC and department documentation, such as policies, procedures, and strategic plans; OMB guidance and an executive order; and reports concerning duplicative investments.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making recommendations aimed at improving coordination and reducing duplication, to include FGDC developing a national strategy for coordinating geospatial investments; federal agencies following federal guidance for managing geospatial investments; and OMB developing a mechanism to identify and report on geospatial investments. Two agencies and OMB generally agreed with GAO's recommendations and one agency neither agreed nor disagreed.

For more information, contact David A. Powner at (202) 512-9286 or pownerd@gao.gov.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To better facilitate the coordination of--and accountability for--the estimated billions of dollars in federal geospatial investments, and to reduce duplication, the Secretary of the Interior, as the FGDC chair should establish a time frame for completing a plan to facilitate the implementation of OMB's portfolio management guidance, and develop and implement the plan within the established time frame. The plan, at a minimum, should include goals and performance measures, and the FGDC should report annually to OMB on the progress made on efforts to improve coordination and reduce duplication among themes.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) officials in October 2013, they established the foundation for the implementation plan by consolidating the data themes, designating the theme lead agencies, and identifying performance measures to be used to measure progress in implementing the plan. FGDC officials stated that the first draft of the implementation plan had been completed and that the plan was to be finalized and released for implementation by federal agencies no later than the second quarter of fiscal year 2014.

    Recommendation: To better facilitate the coordination of--and accountability for--the estimated billions of dollars in federal geospatial investments, and to reduce duplication, the Secretary of the Interior, as the FGDC chair should develop and implement guidance for identifying planned geospatial investments using the Geospatial Platform, and establish a time frame for doing so.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On September 25, 2013, FGDC officials issued guidance directing all FGDC departments to identify planned geospatial investments using the Geospatial Platform. Specifically, the guidance states that before expending funds to collect or produce new geospatial data, a component shall search the Geospatial Platform Marketplace and any other appropriate sources to determine if existing or planned data meet agency needs. If an existing data source is found, the component is to obtain and use that data. If the component discovers that another organization has plans to acquire or produce geospatial data that will meet the program requirements, the component is to contact that organization to develop a plan to coordinate or partner with the other organization. If the component does not discover existing or planned acquisitions, the component is to create a metadata record that describes the planned acquisition and publish it on the Marketplace not less than 120 days prior to the planned acquisition. This guidance has been implemented by at least one federal department, the Department of Interior, which issued similar guidance to its bureaus and offices on September 25, 2013.

    Recommendation: To better facilitate the coordination of--and accountability for--the estimated billions of dollars in federal geospatial investments, and to reduce duplication, the Secretary of the Interior, as the FGDC chair should establish a time frame for creating and updating a strategic plan to improve coordination and reduce duplication, and create and implement the plan within the established time frame. The plan, at a minimum, should include (1) a vision statement for the NSDI; (2) outcome-oriented goals and objectives that address all aspects of the NSDI; (3) a description of how the goals and objectives are to be achieved, including a description of the resources needed to achieve the goals and objectives and how the FGDC is to work with other agencies to achieve them; (4) performance measures for achieving the stated goals; and (5) external factors that could affect the achievement of the goals and objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) officials in October 2013, the strategic plan is on target to be finalized and released for implementation by federal agencies no later than quarter 2 of fiscal year 2014. It will be followed by a more detailed implementation plan which will contain specific metrics to measure progress of the items in the strategic plan.

    Recommendation: To help ensure the success of department's efforts to improve geospatial coordination and reduce duplication, the Secretary of Commerce should designate a senior agency official who has departmentwide responsibility, accountability, and authority for geospatial information issues.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Commerce formally designated the Chief Information Officer and Director for High Performance Computing and Communications as the senior agency official for geospatial information on February 28, 2013.

    Recommendation: To help ensure the success of department's efforts to improve geospatial coordination and reduce duplication, the Secretary of Commerce should designate a senior agency official who has departmentwide responsibility, accountability, and authority for geospatial information issues to develop a policy that requires the department to make its geospatial metadata available on the clearinghouse.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Commerce issued a policy on September 26, 2013 that establishes polices and describes responsibilities for the creation and publication of geospatial metadata. For example, the department's senior agency official for geospatial information is to ensure compliance with the policy, and perform periodic evaluations of geospatial metadata creation, maintenance, and publication throughout the department. Agencies within the department are to ensure that their metadata meet or exceed the minimum requirements of the associated standards, and that all metadata is submitted for publication on the clearinghouse.

    Recommendation: To help ensure the success of department's efforts to improve geospatial coordination and reduce duplication, the Secretary of Commerce should designate a senior agency official who has departmentwide responsibility, accountability, and authority for geospatial information issues to develop and implement internal procedures to ensure that it accesses the NSDI clearinghouse before it expends funds to collect or produce new geospatial data to determine (1) whether the information has already been collected by others and (2) whether cooperative efforts to obtain the data are possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: Commerce issued guidance on October 21, 2013, directing all departmental offices and operating units to coordinate with other organizations, both inside and outside of the department, to determine if existing or planned data would meet their needs. The guidance includes seven steps to take to avoid duplication of geospatial data. According to an agency official in November 2013, the agency is in the process of collecting evidence to show that the new guidance has been implemented.

    Recommendation: Further, to improve the department's management of its geodetic control theme,the Secretary of Commerce should direct the geodetic control theme point of contact to create and implement a plan to develop and implement geodetic control theme standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Commerce has inventoried and reviewed existing geodetic control standards, specifications, and guideline documents to determine what updates are needed for existing standards. The department has identified the personnel responsible for the updates and prioritized a schedule for their completion, beginning in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013. According to an agency official in November 2013, the agency is in the process of collecting evidence to show that the new guidance has been implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the designated senior official for geospatial information to prepare, maintain, publish, and implement a strategy for advancing geographic information and related geospatial data activities appropriate to its mission.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to Department of the Interior officials in October 2013, the department's strategy for advancing geographic information and related activities has been drafted, is under review, and is to be finalized no later than the second quarter of fiscal year 2014.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the designated senior official for geospatial information to develop a policy that requires the department to make its geospatial metadata available on the clearinghouse.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of the Interior issued a policy on September 24, 2013, to establish the requirements and responsibilities for the creation or publication of metadata for geospatial data. The policy applies to the department's senior agency official for geospatial information, as well as all department bureaus, offices, and supporting organizations that collect or produce geospatial data. For example, the senior agency official is required to oversee the development of robust governance and monitoring procedures for the management of geospatial metadata. Bureaus and offices are to document all geospatial data that is collected, produced, acquired, maintained, distributed, used or preserved by the department using a metadata standard that is enforced by the Federal Geographic Data Committee and that meets related federal directives and guidelines.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the designated senior official for geospatial information to develop and implement internal procedures to ensure that it accesses the NSDI clearinghouse before it expends funds to collect or produce new geospatial data to determine (1) whether the information has already been collected by others and (2) whether cooperative efforts to obtain the data are possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Open

    Comments: Interior issued guidance on September 25, 2013, directing staff to utilize the Marketplace tab on the NSDI clearinghouse (currently hosted on the Geospatial Platform, see www.geoplatform.gov) to determine if existing federal, state, local or private data meet agency needs before expending funds for data collection. The guidance includes seven specific steps to be taken by Interior bureaus or offices to search the Geospatial Platform and document the results. For example, the guidance states that before expending funds to collect or produce new geospatial data, each bureau or office shall search the Geospatial Platform Marketplace, and any other appropriate sources, to determine if existing or planned data meet agency needs. If an existing data source is found, the bureau or office is to obtain and use that data. If the bureau or office discovers that another organization has plans to acquire or produce geospatial data that will meet the program requirements, the bureau or office is to contact that organization to develop a plan to coordinate or partner with the other organization. According to an agency official, the department is in the process of collecting evidence to show that the procedures have been implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the hydrography theme point of contact to prepare goals relating to all datasets within the hydrography theme that support the NSDI, and as needed, collect and analyze information from user needs and include those needs in the theme-related goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to Department of the Interior officials in October 2013, goals have been prepared for the Hydrography data theme and should be released no later than the second quarter of fiscal year 2014.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the hydrography theme point of contact to develop and implement a plan for the nationwide population of the hydrography theme that addresses all datasets within the theme; and that includes (1) the development of partnership programs with states, tribes, academia, the private sector, other federal agencies, and localities that meet the needs of users; (2) human and financial resource needs; (3) standards, metadata, and the clearinghouse needs; and (4) a timetable for the development for the theme.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to Department of the Interior officials in October 2013, a plan for the nationwide population of the Hydrography data theme -- the data theme relevant to the department -- is under development and is to be released no later than the second quarter of fiscal year 2014.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the hydrography theme point of contact to create and implement a plan to develop and implement hydrography theme standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to Department of the Interior officials in October 2013, the plan for developing and implementing theme standards is under review and should be released no later than second quarter of fiscal year 2014.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should designate a senior agency official who has departmentwide responsibility, accountability, and authority for geospatial information issues. The Secretary of Transportation direct the designated senior official for geospatial information to prepare, maintain, publish, and implement a strategy for advancing geographic information and related geospatial data activities appropriate to its mission.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the Department of Transportation, the department formally designated a Geospatial Coordination Council on October 1, 2013. Once the Charter for the Council is established, the Council will move on to developing and implementing a strategy for advancing transportation geospatial data and information. The department anticipates completing a draft strategy in the first quarter of calendar year 2014.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should designate a senior agency official who has departmentwide responsibility, accountability, and authority for geospatial information issues. The Secretary of Transportation should direct the designated senior official for geospatial information to develop a policy that requires the department to make its geospatial metadata available on the clearinghouse.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the Department of Transportation, a draft policy that requires the Department to make its geospatial metadata available on the clearinghouse, developed in partnership with the Departments of Interior and Commerce, was approved by the Geospatial Coordination Council in October 2013. It is currently awaiting Secretarial approval, which is anticipated by December 31, 2013.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should designate a senior agency official who has departmentwide responsibility, accountability, and authority for geospatial information issues.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Transportation formally designated the Bureau of Transportation Statistics Director as the senior agency official for geospatial information on January 17, 2013, and conveyed this information to executive leadership throughout the department.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation direct the designated senior official for geospatial information to develop and implement internal procedures to ensure that it accesses the NSDI clearinghouse before it expends funds to collect or produce new geospatial data to determine (1) whether the information has already been collected by others and (2) whether cooperative efforts to obtain the data are possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the Department of Transportation, a draft policy that requires the Department to search the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) clearinghouse before expending funds to collect or produce new geospatial data, developed in partnership with the Departments of Interior and Commerce, was approved by the Geospatial Coordination Council in October 2013. It is currently awaiting Secretarial approval, which is anticipated by December 31, 2013.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the transportation theme point of contact to prepare goals relating to all datasets within the transportation theme that support the NSDI, and as needed, collect and analyze information from user needs and include those needs in the theme-related goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the Department of Transportation, the Department's National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) Theme Lead is working with the Geospatial Coordination Council and individual data owners to develop implementation plans, as prescribed by the FGDC, for the individual datasets. The department anticipates completing the implementation plans by the FGDC mandated deadline of March 31, 2014.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the transportation theme point of contact to develop and implement a plan for the nationwide population of the transportation theme that addresses all datasets within the theme; and that includes (1) the development of partnership programs with states, tribes, academia, the private sector, other federal agencies,and localities that meet the needs of users; (2) human and financial resource needs; (3) standards, metadata, and the clearinghouse needs; and (4) a timetable for the development for the theme.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the Department of Transportation, the department will develop a Strategic Plan for geospatial information that will build upon the Transportation for the Nation Strategic Plan and complement the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) Strategic Plan, which is currently out for final review. The Department anticipates completing the strategic plan in the first quarter of calendar year 2014.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the transportation theme point of contact to create and implement a plan to develop and implement transportation theme standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to the Department of Transportation, the Geospatial Coordination Council will begin to focus on data standards in the third quarter of fiscal year 2014.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the designated senior official for geospatial information to prepare, maintain, publish, and implement a strategy for advancing geographic information and related geospatial data activities appropriate to its mission.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: According to Department of Commerce officials in November 2013, the department's strategy for advancing geographic information and related activities is under development and is to be finalized no later than the second quarter of fiscal year 2014.

    Recommendation: To improve OMB oversight of geospatial information and assets, and minimize duplication of federal geospatial investments, the Director of OMB should develop a mechanism, or modify existing mechanisms, to identify and report annually on all geospatial related investments, including dollars invested and the nature of the investment.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2013, OMB issued guidance to agencies on how to document information on the nature of geospatial investments, such as using common standards, specifications, and formats developed by the geospatial community. According to OMB officials, the implementation of this guidance is still through the use of the exhibit 53s and 300s, which we had previoulsy found to have limitations. At this point it is unclear the extent to which federal agencies, OMB, or others will effectively be able to identify how much federal funding is being spent on geospatial systems and data.

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