Thoughts on the Updated Geospatial Data Act

Over the summer, I wrote a post commenting on a piece of legislation known as the “Geospatial Data Act of 2017.” This legislation, or something similar to it, comes up every few years and has yet to get signed into law. In my post, I raised concerns about language that would have defined the use of private-sector entities in the collection of geospatial data assets covered by the legislation. I won’t re-hash the concerns I had at the time, but you can read my original post.

I am happy to say that the bill was re-introduced on 15 November 2017 (GIS Day 2017) as HR4395 and S2128. In this new version of the bill, the language that concerned me has been completely removed, and, with that, any serious objection I may have had with the bill.

To be clear, I don’t think anything I wrote or said had any direct impact. I think a lot of people who are smart on the issues saw that the language in Section 11 of the original bill was simply out of place with the rest of the legislation and detracted from the bill’s overall intent. In short, the process worked.

In my original post, I mentioned that the bill had some positive aspects that could improve geospatial coordination between federal and non-federal entities. One of the primary ways it does this is to codify structures and processes that have become well-known into actual law. Entities such as the Federal Geographic Data Committee and the National Geospatial Advisory Council exist primarily due to executive actions such as circulars from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). While these actions have force of law, they are subject to change by subsequent administrations without the benefit of the legislative process.

We went through a similar process a few years ago in Maryland when the state’s Open Data Act was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by then-governor Martin O’Malley. As a result, policies that simply existed due to executive orders were now protected from the whims of subsequent administrations by force of legislation. The Geospatial Data Act of 2017 attempts to accomplish a similar goal at the federal level.

The Geospatial Data Act codifies not only these committees, but also their structure and behavior. Additionally, the new language does a better job of handling National Geospatial Data Assets (NGDA), while continuing to mandate that lead federal agencies coordinate with state, local, tribal, private, and non-profit entities to maximize data sharing and reduce duplication as much as possible.

Many of the goals of the current bill are important to state and local governments, who encounter a great deal of friction in attempting to coordinate with their federal counterparts on geospatial issues ranging from data acquisition to access control to privacy and a host of others.

A colleague affiliated with NSGIC who was very involved in the run up to the introduction of this legislation alerted me to this new version. After my first post, he had reached out to make sure I understood the benefits of the legislation as he saw them. Since I think there are very few people at any level of government who have a better understanding of the issues addressed by this bill, I made sure I gave the new version a thorough read from his point of view.

I think the new bill is much improved over the previous version. As I said in my post over the summer, anyone who is interested should read the full text of the bill for themselves (links are above) and make their own decisions. Don’t pay attention to summaries or position statements from any other interest group without first reading the full text yourself.

I am certain that there will still be aspects of the bill on which reasonable people will disagree. But, as the latest revision of the bill shows, there are plenty of reasonable people involved with this legislation. If you consider yourself a geospatial professional, I encourage you to read the bill and make your thoughts known.