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Federal GIS

The federal government of the United States has been making extensive and innovative use of GIS and other geospatial technologies to furnish more timely and complete information that supports better decision making and more efficiently delivers services while limiting costs. The use of GIS is expanding from specific projects to spatially integrated information systems.

The adoption of GIS has been part of a larger policy that is aggressively pursuing a strategy that expands electronic government or E-Government. Far more than just putting forms online, E-Government takes advantage of the Internet and other information technologies that improve government interactions with citizens and businesses and eliminate redundant systems.

When considering this expanded use of GIS and other information technologies, some federal agencies easily come to mind. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, an early adopter of GIS, has expanded its use of GIS to support business requirements at local, regional, and national levels. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's and the U.S. Forest Service's National Integrated Land System project provides a total business solution for the integration of field survey data with parcel data. This year the United States Geological Survey (USGS) celebrates 125 years of scientific research that has greatly benefited the country. With its mission to provide scientific information that furthers understanding of the earth and its natural resources and hazards, USGS is intimately involved with geography and makes extensive and expert use of GIS. Additional examples in this article and in this section illustrate some of the wide ranging applications of GIS by agencies of the federal government.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Production Estimates and Crop Assessment Division of the Foreign Agricultural Service

Regional analysts for the Production Estimates and Crop Assessment Division (PECAD) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service use GIS to collect market intelligence and forecast reliable global production numbers for grains, oilseeds, and cotton. The agency is responsible for global crop condition assessments and estimates of area, yield, and production for these crops and reporting on conditions affecting food security in the world. With GIS, analysts can make use of data from many sources—satellite data, input databases, climate data, crop models, and data extraction routines for yield and area estimates.

PECAD has made data model results and ancillary data more accessible through the use of ArcIMS. The Crop Explorer Web application features near real-time global crop condition information based on the satellite imagery and weather data processed by PECAD. The Web mapping application uses ColdFusion, Java, ArcIMS, SQL Server, and ArcSDE to manage and store the geospatial data. For more information, visit

Natural Resources Conservation Service
Customer Service Toolkit

The Customer Service Toolkit (CST), a collection of software tools, was developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for USDA field employees who work with the public. Using CST, these field employees provide information to farmers and ranchers that promotes land conservation. Partner agencies that provide conservation planning and resource assessment information also use CST. The ArcView extension included in CST supplies mapping and access to geospatial datasets such as orthoimagery, soils, and conservation themes. Ongoing enhancements to CST add new data sources and functionality. Visit for the latest information on CST.

Geospatial Data Gateway

The goal of the Geospatial Data Gateway is to "deliver data to anyone, anywhere, anytime." The Gateway eliminates time-consuming searches of multiple Web sites by providing a single access point for resource data. Data can be located by geographic area using a map interface or latitude and longitude coordinates. Data is delivered in formats that are compatible with commerical and service center applications. The Gateway can be accessed at

U.S. Department of Commerce

U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau is the leading source of comprehensive and timely information about the United States and its population, economy, and government. The Census Bureau publishes its administrative units and street lines for use by many local, state, and federal government agencies. The Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) database identifies the type, location, and names of streets, rivers, railroads, and other geographic features and geospatially defines their relationships to each other and to addresses and other entities in the Master Address File.

GIS users in both the public and private sectors use TIGER geometry with Census Bureau data for many applications and as the basis for further data development. U.S. Census Bureau data model is a common data model for the agencies and organizations that use the TIGER database and maintains the topological integrity of the integrated data layers. The bureau also makes census data readily available to the public through American FactFinder, an ArcIMS powered online mapping application that lets visitors map or download census data.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducts research relating to weather, climate, coasts, and oceans to understand and predict changes in the earth's environment and manage these resources in ways that benefit the United States by addressing the nation's needs—social and environmental as well as economic. NOAA's predictions support decision making that helps save lives, protects property, and safeguards the environment.

Just a few examples of the GIS applications NOAA has developed for analyzing, managing, and mapping research data include

  • The Esri ArcMap interface for the NOAA/ARL HYSPLIT. It was developed by the Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) to run the Hybrid Single Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) model from a simple point-and-click interface. The data server provides hourly updated surface observations from around the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, and Mexico.
  • The NOAA Center for Tsunami Inundation Mapping Efforts has been developing GIS interpretive aids for emergency managers to assess tsunami hazards to coastal communities. These aids combine tsunami inundation, maximum wave heights, and maximum wave velocities with day/night population data and critical facilities to help managers determine evacuation routes and other mitigation efforts.
  • The Shoreline Data Explorer provides high-resolution digital shoreline data that can be viewed online or downloaded in shapefile format. Metadata and printable maps are also available. It was implemented using a combination of ArcIMS, Macromedia ColdFusion, Oracle, and ArcSDE.

For more information on NOAA's work, visit

U.S. Department of the Interior

Bureau of Reclamation

The Bureau of Reclamation, best known for its work constructing dams, power plants, and canals, is charged with managing, developing, and protecting water and water-related resources in the United States. As part of its responsibilities for supplying both water and energy, it delivers 10 trillion gallons of water to more than 31 million people each year and operates hydroelectric plants that produce an average 42 billion kilowatt hours annually.

The bureau uses GIS and other geospatial technologies not only for managing water resources but also for effective land use planning, facilities management, and the development of natural resource and earth science applications. CALSIM II, a generalized water resources simulation model, is just one example of GIS use by the bureau. A joint development project of the California Department of Water Resources and the bureau, this comprehensive and powerful tool is used for evaluating operational alternatives for large, complex river basins.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with safeguarding public health and the natural environment. The agency's long-term goals encompass activities that promote clean air, clean and safe water, land preservation and restoration, healthy communities and ecosystems, and environmental stewardship. To carry out this ambitious mission, the agency has embraced the use of geospatial data and technologies to improve decision making and business processes. It disseminates geospatial data and shares applications that use this data not only within the agency but also with EPA partners and the public. The agency is implementing an enterprisewide technical infrastructure for sharing geospatial data, applications, and Web services and establishing an effective structure for managing geospatial efforts and communication within the agency.

The EPA's Emergency Operations Center provides each EPA employee with desktop access to environmental, scientific, financial, and policy information in a single, easy-to-access ArcIMS-powered Web portal that can be customized. Some other examples of the many GIS-based applications used by EPA include

  • The Waste Management Facility Siting Tool, an interactive GIS application, helps determine the viability of potential sites based on selected criteria such as proximity to flood zones, wetlands, karst topography, and fault zones.
  • The EPA EnvironMapper online application provides federal and regional emergency response staff with access to reports on related emergency situations, both recent and historical. It also tracks the location of on-scene coordinators and provides them with access to reports.

For more information on the work of the EPA, visit

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