Data from the NSDI partnerships have been useful to communities across the country, as suggested by demonstration projects conducted from July 1998 to May 2000 by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) together with the National Partnership for Reinventing Government and five federal agencies (FGDC, 2000). These projects took place in six communities and dealt with a wide range of issues including crime prevention, land use planning and smart growth, flood mitigation, and environmental restoration. Of course, local data were needed to complement the federal data and address specific issues, and often the federal standards enhanced the ability of a given community to acquire local data from adjacent communities. Several projects in this spirit have been initiated by the federal government, such as the GeoData Alliance, which is a nonprofit organization open to all individuals and institutions using a GIS to improve the health of communities, economies, and the earth (see http://www.geoall.net). However, the GeoData Alliance efforts are still in the early stages of development.
These efforts revealed other problems with the federal data. Most often mentioned was coarse granularity. Data that look detailed from a national perspective are often too coarse to address local issues such as crime, or flooding, or growth. For many community issues, higher-resolution data are needed.
Besides scale, there are five other significant reasons why federal data may be inadequate for local use.
Limited Availability: Sometimes federal data are not yet available for a particular location. Soil data, useful for many purposes including knowing about construction problems, are a prime example. Despite an accelerated national program, only a small portion of the 3,100 counties in the United States have adequate soil maps.
Timeliness: This can be a problem for data about phenomena that are changing rapidly. Census data are an excellent example. Decennial Census data are collected only once every 10 years. As one moves further from the census year, the data become more dated and less reliable. For volatile information, Census data may be good 2 two years out of 10. Another example involves digital orthophotos and orthophoto mapping. These are techniques by which spatial data can be more accurately measured and communicated. An orthomap combines the image of an aerial photograph with metrics that allow for direct measurements of geographic location, distance, angles, et cetera. The federal program in orthophoto mapping, led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, formerly the Soil Conservation Service), has been very useful for local planning