USGS Geographic Information Officer

As awareness of the importance of spatial information grows, organizations are finding that they need to plan for the use of geographic information at the top levels of their organization. This trend has led to the creation of a new position: the geographic information officer, or GIO.

USGS--Science for a changing worldOne of the first organizations to officially create a GIO position is the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS is one of eight bureaus within the Department of the Interior governed by the Information Technology Management Reform Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996, to add a chief information officer (CIO) position. But because of the spatial nature of much of their data, the USGS elected to broaden the position and call it a GIO.

According to Barbara Ryan, associate director for operations for the USGS, the USGS began discussing the need for a position with broader responsibilities than just managing networks and hardware and software. The GIO would also be responsible for looking at the data moving across those networks.

The need for a GIO was recognized partly in response to federal legislation, but also as the result of a new vision at the USGS called "Gateway to the Earth." The USGS has a 10,000-person workforce spread among all 50 states that needs access to the USGS' pentabytes of information. The USGS estimates that in its 120 years of existence it has spent approximately $20 billion collecting earth and natural science information. The goal of the Gateway to the Earth vision is to optimize that investment. Hiring a GIO is the first step in making this vision a reality in that it's a nationwide search for someone who can see this project through to fruition. The USGS wants the GIO to create and implement a coordinated strategy for allowing the citizens of this country to get access to this information.

"Our systems that hold our earth and natural science information have historically been disjointed and decentralized," said Ryan. Currently, when scientists want to access information, they often find it is either housed in another program or housed in another division of the organization.

According to Charles Groat, director of the USGS, "'Gateway to the Earth' will allow scientists and citizens alike to go to the Internet, point to a place on the earth's surface, and access all available natural and earth science information collected by the USGS."

"The Gateway to the Earth program will give biologists as easy access to geological information as they have to biological information in their own division," continued Ryan. "I think the exciting aspect of this is that we don't even know all the connections and interrelatedness of these data sets. Until people start pushing the envelope--for example, superimposing exotic species data over soils data--we won't even know all the relations and connections of this whole earth system."

The GIO position is in the senior executive service (SES), which is the highest rank of the career federal service. The GIO, working out of the Director's Office, will be able to integrate the information systems and data housed in the four USGS program divisions: water, biology, geology, and mapping.

Ryan noted that if the USGS had hired a CIO and not a GIO, there would have been a tendency for the job to be too narrowly focused. "A CIO would think about the infrastructure that is needed, but may not have a broad enough understanding of the tremendous information assets that this Bureau has or the very real challenge of delivering this information not only to our other scientists within the Bureau, but also to our thousands of customers and to the citizens in this country."

For more information, contact Barbara Ryan (E-mail:, tel.: 703-648-7413).

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