ArcNews Online

Summer 2008

E-mail to a Friend

The National Geospatial Advisory Committee: An Action Agenda

By Anne Hale Miglarese, NGAC Chairperson

In January of 2008, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced the formation and membership of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC). This announcement came as no surprise to geospatial professionals following the activities of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) or spatial data development and coordination in the United States. In fact, for years, many nonfederal organizations and individuals have called for a voice to officially provide input into U.S. federal government activities related to geospatial programs.

For the most part, the federal government was quite willing to receive informal input and hold forums to discuss its spatial activities, but listening was often an ad hoc and casual process. In defense of the government staff, federal law restricts the influence of nonfederal individuals on official federal programs and activities. Their informal approach was the only approach legally possible without setting up what is known as a federal advisory committee under the authority of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

Illustration by Marina Murad, Esri

But, by formally establishing this FACA committee, i.e., the NGAC, the federal government can now receive formal advice and recommendations from representatives of state, local, regional, and tribal governments, as well as academia and the private sector.

The pending establishment of the NGAC was published in the Federal Register on May 16, 2007, along with a request for applications for committee membership. Thus, on January 29, 2008, the secretary officially named 28 individuals to serve on the NGAC (see table at the bottom of this page). These members represent a very diverse and exceptionally talented group of professionals who have spent many years devoted to promoting and advancing the use of GIS technology to improve decision making across many disciplines.


The charter for the committee was established by the office of the Secretary of the Interior and establishes that the committee will report to the chair of the FGDC, which is the Secretary of the Interior or his designee. Jim Cason, the Associate Deputy Secretary of the Interior, serves as the chair of the FGDC. The scope and objectives of the committee are also laid out in the charter:

"The committee will provide advice and recommendations related to management of federal and national geospatial programs, the development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure [NSDI] and the implementation of Office of Management and Budget [OMB] Circular A-16 and Executive Order 12906. The committee will review and comment on geospatial policy and management issues and will provide a forum to convey views representative of nonfederal stakeholders in the geospatial community."

The committee will meet three to four times per year, and all meetings of the committee will be open to the public, with time devoted on the agenda for public comment. The chair of the NGAC, in consultation with the designated federal official (Ivan Deloach, Staff Director of the FGDC), will set the agenda and meeting dates. All meetings are announced in the Federal Register, and all documents and minutes of the meeting are publicly available on the Web (

Direction and Guidance from the FGDC Chairperson

The committee's first full public meeting occurred April 1516, 2008, in Washington, D.C. At this meeting, Cason formally requested that the committee provide advice on

  • National Spatial Data Infrastructure: Recommendations on the future roles and responsibilities of the key players in developing and sustaining the next generation of the NSDI
  • Public-private partnerships and investment strategies: Recommendations on minimizing/removing investment barriers that impede public-private partnerships in advancing the collection, use, and dissemination of geospatial data, products, and technology
  • Management of federal geospatial resources: OMB Circular A-16—Comments/Recommendations on geospatial life cycle management strategies and revisions to OMB Circular A-16 data themes being developed and coordinated through the Geospatial Line of Business initiative
  • Data initiatives: Reviews and recommendations, including recommendations on prioritization of specific programmatic or data initiatives, which include the following: Imagery for the Nation (IFTN), national land parcel data, and the National Map

At this meeting, the committee received briefings from federal staff on several general activities, such as an overview of FGDC activities; a general introduction to the Geospatial Line of Business activity and OMB Circular A-16; and an introduction to the National Map, Imagery for the Nation, Elevation for the Nation, and Geospatial One-Stop.

Additionally, significant time was spent allowing each member of the committee to express their views, concerns, and passions related to the work of the committee. From this three-hour discussion, many similarities emerged, and the cohesion of the group began.

Getting Started: An Action Agenda

The committee has been a long time in the making and hopes its efforts are not judged by the impact it makes in the first few months but by the quality of the advice and guidance it provides to the chair of the FGDC in the years to come. It is anticipated that the committee will focus on a wide range of topics over the next two years. Many of these issues and subjects may be studied and reported in short order. Many will take more time, and several should be viewed as long-term projects requiring detailed analysis and discussion.

Agenda items raised as actions in the first meeting were assigned to subcommittees, then brought back to the full committee for its endorsement in the June meeting. One such item was the creation of a mission statement:

The National Geospatial Advisory Committee mission is to provide strategies regarding the creation, management, and dissemination of cohesive geospatial data, information, and knowledge to enable commercial, academic, and nonprofit organizations and all levels of government to more effectively

  • Empower and serve the public.
  • Protect our homeland.
  • Foster economic growth.
  • Advance science.
  • Manage our resources.
  • Prepare for and respond to emergencies.
  • Govern our nation.

NGAC Endorsement of Imagery for the Nation

With a mission statement complete, the committee was asked by Cason to evaluate and make recommendations on the Imagery for the Nation initiative. After hours of debate, the following statement was endorsed by the NGAC:

Whereas seamless coverage orthophotography has been demonstrated to have crosscutting utility; whereas all levels of government are currently investing in orthophotography, many without coordination or leveraging the investment; and whereas IFTN

  • Provides financial incentives for all levels of government to cooperate in creation and publication of public domain data
  • Saves taxpayer money by achieving national economies of scale
  • Sets minimal technical standards ensuring that cohesive national data is created, while allowing buy ups so that varying state, local, and regional requirements can be met
  • Establishes a regular schedule for delivery so customers and partners can plan
  • Is the model for the development of other critical national geospatial data layers

NGAC fully endorses the concept of Imagery for the Nation. However, before it is authorized and implemented the following issues need to be resolved:

  • A procurement strategy that uses a best practices procurement process and delineates the contracting agency(s), procurement methods, and vehicles must be detailed. This procurement plan should cover small business participation. The federal community should clearly speak to the intent of whether this information will be procured to create information that will go into the public domain or will be licensed as data products. Further, the government needs a funding and acquisition timeline that allows private companies to engage in strategic planning for capital equipment acquisition and staffing that allows the demand to be met in a timely fashion without creating undue risk of oversupply in the marketplace due to the lack of a clear procurement strategy.
  • The committee requested a clear statement of policy from the federal government on how it intends to ensure that funding associated with the IFTN initiative will be monitored to make certain it is not used to underwrite projects that compete with private-sector services offered in the geospatial community.
  • The development and publication of an integrated strategy for funding and implementing the data development initiative of the NSDI are critical. While it is acknowledged that the IFTN initiative is thoughtfully conceived and well vetted within the geospatial community, largely due to the efforts of the National States Geographic Information Council and the National Digital Orthophotography Program, it is important that this program not be implemented without careful consideration of the other data initiatives developing within the community. Specifically, the other programs that should be analyzed and synchronized with IFTN include Elevation for the Nation, Parcels for the Nation, and Transportation for the Nation. The geospatial community must analyze these activities and develop a plan to present them as needed investments in the development of information infrastructure in a thoughtful, complementary, and nonduplicative process.
  • The recently established National Land Imaging Program (NLIP) is designed to meet U.S. civilian moderate-resolution land imaging needs to monitor the changes in land surface, polar regions, and coastal zones due to the changes in population growth, development, and climate changes. A program office has been established in the Department of the Interior, reporting at the secretary and assistant secretary level, to provide focused leadership and management for the nation's land imaging efforts. NLIP will focus on maintaining a core, operational government commitment and capability to collect moderate-resolution land imagery through the procurement and launch of a series of U.S. owned satellites, thereby ensuring the continuity of U.S. collected and managed Landsat-like data well into future decades. It is important for FGDC and the Department of the Interior to ensure that the IFTN and NLIP programs are clear in their mission focus and work together to provide society with the spatial information required to support decision making, albeit at very different scales for different applications.
  • With regard to the management of Imagery for the Nation, the committee requested that the federal government clearly articulate the management process that will govern Imagery for the Nation as an ongoing program. Specifically, how will it be managed and by what agencies and offices; how will the programmatic staff stay in touch with the needs of the nonfederal user community; how will the program minimize duplication of effort and ensure through a vigorous outreach program that others are aware of the availability of this information; and, finally, how will the staff continue to measure the return on investment and document cost savings on an ongoing basis?

The committee looks forward to a regular dialog with the organizations promoting Imagery for the Nation, particularly FGDC. While there are still several issues as delineated above, the committee is confident that by working together it can achieve its common goal.

Transition Team White Paper

In the first meeting, a significant amount of dialog revolved around the geospatial community's need to engage in the political process by embracing a new administration in November and working to influence this new leadership to embrace geospatial technology as an investment that underpins the national governance structure and to positively influence hundreds of administrative initiatives to follow. The goal of this project is for a geospatial white paper to be developed for the transition team shortly after the November election. The design of the geospatial white paper will be simple and focus on why geospatial technology matters to the federal government, a few high-profile activities that could be embraced by the new administration, and the location and title of presidentially appointed positions within the federal agencies that have traditionally had significant influence on geospatial policy and technology. The subcommittee will be working over the summer on fully developing the transition paper, and the full committee anticipates finalizing the document at its October meeting.

Illustration by Suzanne Davis, Esri

The Changing Landscape

Also, during the committee's first meeting, there was significant discussion on how the geospatial world has changed dramatically over the past decade and how, as a community, it must acknowledge that change and anticipate the future to make sound recommendations for geospatial investments in the public sector. These changes have occurred at all levels in government, academia, and the private sector. To lay a foundation and context for the NGAC deliberations over the next few years, the committee is developing a changing landscape white paper that describes this change from a technical level, a social level, and a governance standpoint. There are many everyday examples; all one has to do is look at how geospatial technology is being embedded in consumer applications on cell phones to see the change.

Perhaps the best example of this fundamental change occurring within the spatial community is to look at the progression of where framework spatial data is generated. In years past, most mapping data was generated at the federal level through federal programs, eventually making its way to state and local governments. However, often, the data was out of date by the time it was distributed to nonfederal governments or, even more typically, was not built to standard scales necessary at the state and local levels. One could argue that about 10 years ago, the hourglass began to turn and the flow of data began to move from state and local government, where the higher-resolution data was procured, to the federal government (see hourglass graphic on page 4). This transition alone has caused serious issues with governance structures that the community grapples with to this day. However, perhaps the most radical assertion of change has just begun. With the influence of Garmin, Google, Microsoft, NAVTEQ, Tele Atlas/TomTom, Yahoo, and many other talented and financially enabled businesses moving into the local search arena on the backbone of geography, it is certain that this is only the beginning of this changing paradigm of where data is created and where partnerships are located.

In years past, most mapping data was generated at the federal level through federal programs and then eventually made its way to state and local governments. However, often the data was out of date by the time it reached nonfederal governments or was not built to the scales needed by state and local governments. About 10 years ago, the hourglass began to turn and the flow of high-resolution data began to move the other direction, from state and local governments to the federal government. Furthermore, perhaps a more radical change has just begun—the influence of private-sector data.

These fundamental changes and the influence and impact they will have on federal, state, and local governments, as well as the flow of geospatial goods and services, cannot be underestimated. The National Geospatial Advisory Committee will endeavor to describe and analyze many of these phenomena in the white paper to be published later this year.

The Long-Term Agenda

In light of the transition occurring within the geospatial industry, the committee spoke at length on the need for a national strategy for building and sustaining the NSDI. There is broad agreement on the need for such a strategy, which is certainly the long pole in the geospatial tent. This effort will take substantial discussion, listening, learning, and debating to be thoughtfully constructed. Deliberations will focus on topics such as the need for strong leadership within federal, state, and local governments. It is ideal that all these entities are represented on the NGAC. Sustainable funding and financing must be a major component of the strategy, and within this topic, the analysis of business models that allow true public-private partnerships will certainly be an interesting debate.

Finally, the geospatial community must work together to attract and educate the next generation of this profession. This country's attention to the basic teachings of geography and the many other disciplines that underpin geospatial technology is woefully inadequate. This basic framework for a national strategy for the NSDI will evolve and include building the components of the strategy in consultation with the community at large.

Staying in Touch

FGDC encourages you to monitor its activities through its Web site ( The committee is in the process of developing an outreach strategy and hopes to release it on its Web site in the near future. It looks forward to working with the geospatial community to provide actionable recommendations and advice that promote better decision making through geography.

About the Author

Anne Hale Miglarese is a principal with the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Miglarese has worked in state government with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and in federal government with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Most recently, she was the president and managing director of Fugro EarthData. Miglarese also serves on numerous boards, including the Management Association of Private Photogrammetric Surveyors and TerraGo Technologies. Miglarese is the chairperson of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee.

Academic and Private-Sector Representatives

Sean Ahearn, Hunter College, City University of New York
Allen Carroll, National Geographic Society
David Cowen, University of South Carolina
Jack Dangermond, Esri
Kass Green, The Alta Vista Company
David Maune, Dewberry
Anne Hale Miglarese, Booz Allen Hamilton (Chairperson)
Charles Mondello, Pictometry International
Kim Nelson, Microsoft Corporation
Matthew O'Connell, GeoEye
John Palatiello, Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors
G. Michael Ritchie, Photo Science
David Schell, Open Geospatial Consortium
Christopher Tucker, ERDAS, Inc.
Public-Sector Representatives

Timothy M. Bennett, NativeView
Michael Byrne, State of California
Donald Dittmar, Waukesha County, Wisconsin
Dennis Goreham, State of Utah
Randall L. Johnson, Metropolitan Council, St. Paul, Minnesota
Randy Johnson, Hennepin County, Minnesota
Jerry Johnston, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Barney Krucoff, District of Columbia
Timothy Loewenstein, Buffalo County, Nebraska
Zsolt Nagy, State of North Carolina
Jay Parrish, State of Pennsylvania
Gene Schiller, Southwest Florida Water Management District
Steven Wallach, U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (Vice Chairperson)

Contact Us | Privacy | Legal | Site Map