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Summer 2002
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A New Executive Position at Many Organizations

Geographic Information Officer

Geographic information officer, chief information officer, system administrator, data manager.

They bear many titles, but their purpose is the same--management of spatial data and the applications it supports. Organizations that use and produce large amounts of spatial data are realizing the importance of having a top-level manager for that information. This trend has led to the development of a new position at many organizations, the geographic information officer (GIO).

Now, two years after the debut of this position at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), several state and federal organizations have appointed managers to create geospatial data policy and standards. According to USGS Chief Information Officer (CIO) and GIO Karen Siderelis, such standards are enabling the organization to operate more efficiently. This is because they streamline existing spatial information standards and set new policies governing the acquisition, management, and dissemination of geographic data.

Siderelis, who became the federal government's first officially designated GIO in November 2000, says that while many of her early efforts in this position were information technology (IT) related (she was asked to realign the IT staff), it would be difficult to separate management of IT and geospatial initiatives.

"This is a fabulous opportunity to have GIS as part of the overall IT infrastructure, as it should be in an organization where everything we do is related to the earth," says Siderelis. "It is the perfect forum to leverage investments, resources, and vision."

Proof of this is the fact that Siderelis was able to convince President Bush's administration to write funding for USGS geospatial efforts into his proposed budget earlier this year. If approved, approximately $1 million of these funds would be used to create a USGS-wide enterprise GIS.

"I am very pleased to see that other organizations are going the same route that the USGS has gone," says Siderelis. (For a further perspective on USGS GIO Karen Siderelis, please see "Placing the Geographic Information Officer Within an Organization.")

Two such organizations are the State of California and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The State of California

Gary DarlingThe State of California selected Gary Darling as GIO in July 2000. Since then, Darling has worked to create a backbone of policy and infrastructure that streamlines GIS efforts at each level of government operating within the State.

The California Mapping Coordinating Committee's GIS Strategic Plan Work Group is documenting such efforts in the California Geographic Information Infrastructure Strategic Plan. This plan defines how the State deals with geospatial technology, organization, and funding issues. It also creates a conduit through which spatial policy can be made in a diplomatic manner.

Darling said the ultimate goal of the plan is to foster an environment in which governments work together to achieve the necessary resources to create, maintain, and distribute quality spatial data to the public. He explained that a well-defined organizational structure is crucial in a state where more than 10,000 government entities exist.

"Managing GIS efforts in California is a challenge because of our scale," says Darling. "We are large enough to be our own country, which makes it very difficult to manage things centrally."

Once a multifaceted GIS management infrastructure is in place, Darling will help organizations coordinate and share common geographic databases and establish standards for technical, quality assurance, and metadata publishing efforts.

An example of a technology standard that already exists is the State's parallel server architecture. The State of California has a technological architecture in which spatial data crucial to the government's operations is backed up on several servers throughout the State. This way, if one computer is destroyed due to an event such as a natural disaster, California does not lose its investment in information.

Prior to becoming California's GIO, Darling spent seven years as chief information officer for the California Resources Agency. He brings more than 15 years of experience in managing computer resources to his current position. Darling has a B.S. in political economy of natural resources and a B.A. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. He has also taken Ph.D.-level courses in agricultural economics at the University of California, Davis.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Kim NelsonLike Darling, Kim Nelson is a steward of spatial data and a creator of geographic information policy. After her appointment as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assistant administrator for environmental information and chief information officer in September, she broadened the position to encompass management of all agency information sets including spatial data.

According to Nelson, this role was established to help better equip the agency to answer questions from the public such as: Is the environment improving? Is the EPA achieving compliance? Do regulated facilities exist near my home?

"We need an organization where managers have the right information at the right time to answer questions and make decisions," says Nelson. "One of my interests is taking a broader look at how we manage spatial data internally and with our federal and state partners."

One vehicle for doing this is the Geospatial Blueprint, a strategic plan currently in production, which explores these partnerships as well as standards for data collection, format, dissemination, and architecture. The document will outline many of EPA's policies for spatial data management within the organization as a whole and within each of its 10 regions.

Such policies are designed to help the EPA become compliant with the Expanded E-Government Initiative set forth by President George Bush in the President's Management Agenda last summer. Under the direction of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget Associate Director Mark Forman, this effort is designed to use information technology to reduce redundancy within the federal government and to improve the provision of services to customers at this level of government and within the general public.

Currently, the EPA participates in eight of the 24 e-government projects outlined in the President's Management Agenda including the Geospatial One-Stop Shop initiative to create a single Web portal for online access to all federal government spatial information and an e-grants program.

According to Nelson, such initiatives require the EPA to have strong relationships with other federal and state government departments, especially since the agency receives 95 percent of its spatial data from these organizations.

"We can't do this in isolation," says Nelson. "We need to focus on building strong relationships and cooperative efforts. My highest priority is forging partnerships at the federal level and strengthening our existing state partnerships."

The National Environmental Information Exchange Network is an example of the outcome of such cooperative efforts. This program helps facilitate the exchange of information between state and federal government environmental agencies in a common format via the Internet.

Congress has approved $25 million for the establishment of the National Environmental Information Exchange Network Grant Program. This program provides grants to states, the District of Columbia, Federally Recognized Indian Tribes, and Trust Territories to build systems compatible with the network.

Prior to joining the EPA, Nelson spent 14 years with the State of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection. She served as the department's first director of the Program Integration and Effectiveness Office and its first chief information officer. Most recently, she served as executive deputy secretary. Nelson holds a B.S. in secondary education and political science from Pennsylvania's Shippensburg University and a master of public administration from the University of Pennsylvania.

For more information, visit the State of California Geographic Council's Web site ( or the EPA Office of Environmental Information at

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