Support for Geospatial Data Act More Critical Than Ever

By Molly Schar  |  April 6, 2018

In the last Congress - the 114th - some 9,600 bills were introduced. Less than 4% of them were signed into law. These are daunting numbers when you are pushing for a piece of legislation that you think is important enough to make it to the finish line. NSGIC has encouraged members of our community to support the Geospatial Data Act (S.2128 and H.R.4395) from the start, but that support has never been as critical as it is right now.

On a conference call with other member of the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO) this week, there was significant discussion about some of the issues standing in the way of unanimous support. Several organizations (NSGIC included) have been working to develop language palatable to associations with vastly different memberships. Folks in the open data/open government community have expressed concern about language around proprietary or licensed data being available on the GeoPlatform. Still others are caught up in a desire to include language related to licensure and procurement. Neither of these issues is appropriate to try to resolve in this bill. It should be noted, however, that the Geospatial Data Act is fundamentally an open data bill.

The irony is that without exception (to my knowledge, anyway), the geospatial community can agree that what the Geospatial Data Act is trying to accomplish is a good thing. The legislation codifies existing executive orders and other guidance documents that direct the work of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), the body that promotes national coordination in developing, using, sharing and disseminating geospatial data. It gives the FGDC the authority to make federal agencies follow some existing common sense rules and provides Congressional oversight over the geospatial activities of FGDC members and other agencies. It provides a great deal more clout to input developed by the multi-sector membership of FGDC’s National Geospatial Advisory Committee. And very importantly to NSGIC, it requires federal agencies to coordinate and work in partnership with other federal agencies, agencies of state, tribal, and local governments, institutions of higher education, and the private sector with the collective goal of achieving a robust national spatial data infrastructure.

The Members of Congress who are sponsoring the identical bills - led by Senator Orrin Hatch (UT) and Representative Bruce Westerman (AR) - are ready to move the legislation forward. We understand that on the Senate side, the Commerce Committee is willing to move S.2128 through the committee in the next month or two. But this depends on two major factors: members of the committee must hear how very important this legislation is, and the geospatial community must unite behind it.

As far as helping committee members to understand the importance of the bill, there are two major avenues: appealing to the committee members as constituents and encouraging their colleagues outside the committee to sign on as co-sponsors.

To NSGIC members and others in the geospatial community who have yet to reach out to their Senators, I urge you to do so now. It is more critical than ever. We are providing sample letters for potential cosigners and for committee members. In addition to sending the letter to your Senator’s office, I would appreciate it if you’d share a copy with me. In fact, drop me a line and let me know you’re working on it, and of course if there’s any way I can help.

At the national level, NSGIC will continue to work with the leadership of COGO organizations and others to find a compromise on specific language in the bill so that we may offer that as a suggestion for consideration by the bill’s sponsors. The only way for the Geospatial Data Act to be among that tiny percentage of bills signed into law is if we are all working together.