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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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