Executive Summary

This report responds to a request by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that the National Research Council (NRC) review its concept of The National Map. The National Map is envisioned by USGS as a database providing “public domain core geographic data about the United States and its territories that other agencies can extend, enhance, and reference as they concentrate on maintaining other data that are unique to their needs” (USGS, 2001).

A motivation behind The National Map is the need to update aging national paper map coverage. Since 1807 the United States has recognized a federal government responsibility to develop and disseminate maps and charts to “promote the safety and welfare of the people” (Thompson, 1988). From its inception in 1879 the USGS has developed a central role in mapping the nation. Today the USGS’s primary topographic map series includes more than 55,000 unique map sheets, and 220,000 digital images. Although this ranks as a great, if unsung, scientific accomplishment, most of the nation’s map coverage is out of date. Paper map sheets in USGS’s primary map series are, on average, 23 years old (USGS, 2001). Map timeliness, a function of the rapidity and effectiveness of map revision, remains a critical national need. At the same time, events such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and recent natural disasters have shown that current information can save lives, and protect public and private property. The demand is great for up-to-date information in real time for public welfare and safety.



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Executive Summary This report responds to a request by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that the National Research Council (NRC) review its concept of The National Map. The National Map is envisioned by USGS as a database providing “public domain core geographic data about the United States and its territories that other agencies can extend, enhance, and reference as they concentrate on maintaining other data that are unique to their needs” (USGS, 2001). A motivation behind The National Map is the need to update aging national paper map coverage. Since 1807 the United States has recognized a federal government responsibility to develop and disseminate maps and charts to “promote the safety and welfare of the people” (Thompson, 1988). From its inception in 1879 the USGS has developed a central role in mapping the nation. Today the USGS’s primary topographic map series includes more than 55,000 unique map sheets, and 220,000 digital images. Although this ranks as a great, if unsung, scientific accomplishment, most of the nation’s map coverage is out of date. Paper map sheets in USGS’s primary map series are, on average, 23 years old (USGS, 2001). Map timeliness, a function of the rapidity and effectiveness of map revision, remains a critical national need. At the same time, events such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and recent natural disasters have shown that current information can save lives, and protect public and private property. The demand is great for up-to-date information in real time for public welfare and safety.

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In July 2002 the NRC appointed the Committee to Review the U.S. Geological Survey Concept of The National Map (see Appendix A). This committee acted under the auspices of the Mapping Science Committee. The committee’s charge was to review the goals for The National Map and evaluate the approaches described in existing USGS documents to meet these goals, the potential benefits of The National Map to the nation (e.g., for homeland security) and the role of the USGS as the proposed leader of this effort. Specific aspects to be evaluated were (1) the proposed data characteristics and recommended methods for providing consistent data for these characteristics over areas of arbitrary geographic size or shape from multiple data holdings whose characteristics will vary among sources; (2) the means described in existing USGS documents to encourage wide-spread use of The National Map through low-cost data in the public domain, and still encourage participation in data maintenance by public, private, and nonprofit organizations; and (3) the roles described for the USGS and partners, including volunteers, to undertake the project. Information gathering for the study was centered on a workshop that took place in Washington, D.C., on September 25–26, 2002. Approximately 40 people from all levels of government, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholders were invited to submit written input prior to their attendance at the workshop (see Appendix B). These submissions are accessible at <http://www7.nationalacademies.org/besr/National_Map_Participants.html>, and some key points are extracted as quotes in Appendix D. In addition to the written input and discussions at the workshop, the committee drew on materials provided by the USGS, including its “vision” document for The National Map (USGS, 2001) and a compilation of community input solicited by USGS on the previous draft of its vision document. BROAD CONCLUSIONS AND KEY RECOMMENDATIONS The committee acknowledges that the USGS Geography Discipline1 has made a bona fide effort to confront its future head-on with The National Map vision. If successful, the program will have great benefits to the nation. The National Map vision of the USGS is ambitious, challenging, and worthwhile. Nevertheless, there is also a uniform sense that the project is not well defined and needs a thorough definition. 1   The USGS has recently changed the nomenclature of its branches to emphasize its scientific disciplinary structure. The National Mapping Division and Geography Research are now reflected at USGS by the Geography Discipline.

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Technically the project may be feasible; organizationally it will require a significant investment in restructuring and rethinking the systems that have changed little over the last two decades. The USGS vision document adds to the mix of already complex programs and terminologies, and reads as a USGS-specific document rather than the concept document for a compelling new national program that reaches far beyond a single federal agency. There is little new in the vision document that has not already been written or discussed as part of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) and the Framework program, and beyond what is already mandated for USGS by the recently revised Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular No. A-16. Furthermore, there is at least a 10-year history of recommendations (see Appendix C) directed mostly at the USGS to build partnerships and Framework data,2 and yet the mapping mission is still at the conceptual stage. Some of the earlier ideas, if implemented before today, could have led to completion of The National Map, as outlined. Recommendation: The USGS should move expeditiously to develop an implementation strategy for its National Map concept in collaboration with USGS’s many partners. The strategy should be clear on the needs, roles, incentives, and projected costs for all partners, on goals, milestones, and responsibilities, and on the USGS role with respect to Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) activities, Geospatial One-Stop, and other initiatives to build out the National Spatial Data Infrastructure. The draft implementation plan should be circulated to all FGDC members and partners for comment. The National Map as presently conceived is a large, ambitious project. Its success depends upon a number of factors that are beyond the control of the USGS. As a general approach to the project, the USGS should continue to build from a more modest, step-wise series of activities that are readily attainable, such as its pilot projects. The committee sees the development of integrated base geographic information for the nation as a cultural and institutional challenge more than a scientific or technical one. Tackling this challenge will require (1) the USGS Geography Discipline to be proactive in developing relationships at all levels of government, (2) significant engagement by USGS leadership, and (3) that the USGS critically examine its philosophy, structure, and processes. This new role is distinct from and builds upon the USGS’s existing 2   Cadastral data, digital orthoimagery, elevation and bathymetry, geodetic control, government units, hydrography, and transportation.

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coordination role. The coordination role remains necessary, particularly in the areas of standards development and quality assurance, but a key question the USGS must ask its partners at every government level is how can the USGS assist them, and are these partners willing to provide resources to support the resulting identified needs and demands? Recommendation: The USGS should make a priority of building the necessary partnerships for an integrated spatial database, while continuing to use small steps and pilot studies to gain experience in revision, integration, and updating procedures and partnerships. The pilot studies should be seen not only as technical but also as organizational and management prototypes. The USGS should place more Geography Discipline emphasis on building these partnerships to assemble Framework data through collaborative programs. In this report the committee discusses the similarities of The National Map and the existing National Atlas of the United States of America®.3 The latter is described by the USGS as being a component of The National Map (USGS, 2001). In large part the National Atlas has been built using coordination and partnerships, using a national standard to develop nationally consistent small-scale databases from larger-scale data. Data themes are owned and maintained by different federal agencies and updates are provided to the USGS for inclusion in the National Atlas. The same should be true of The National Map, though at larger scales and with more partners. The USGS concept of The National Map has two principal components, each dependent on the other. The first is a nationally consistent digital map coverage maintained at one or more uniform scales. The second is a patchwork of varied scales including high-resolution local data. We use a blanket and patchwork quilt metaphor in explaining these two components (see Figure 2.1). The blanket, which we term the enhanced National Atlas (to extend the existing program), would be built with public domain data and broadly disseminated following the philosophy in OMB Circular No. A-16. The second component, the patchwork quilt National Map, would be the result of contributed imagery and maps from local, state, and tribal governments, and from private and nonprofit organizations, contributed as part of a sweeping collaborative effort. This quilt would consist of patches of larger-scale data adhering to national standards but with varied resolutions and filled with smaller-scale data from the enhanced National Atlas when no other source exists. 3   The committee refers to this as the “National Atlas” throughout the report.

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Some of the data will be public, some proprietary with publicly accessible metadata. The USGS would serve as the integrator for all map contributions, assembling and merging data, and certifying and issuing a “seal of approval” to data included in The National Map or as an update in the nationally consistent enhanced National Atlas. The USGS goal of seven-day updates could be attainable using this schema. Such a dynamic National Map will need to support multiple scales, resolutions, classifications, and feature types provided by National Map partners. It will also require extraordinary coordination. Recommendation: Two synergistic organizational structures are needed for the USGS’s contribution to building the National Spatial Data Infrastructure. The first is an enhancement of the existing National Atlas and includes Framework data (some of which already exists and will require partnerships with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] and the Bureau of Land Management [BLM] in particular). The data in the atlas should be public domain, at such a consistent scale as 1:12,000 or 1:24,000, and could be served through many existing and new gateway public and private Internet sites. The second structure, called The National Map, would serve users needing integrated larger-scale data, drive updates to the enhanced National Atlas, and implement many of the ideas that the USGS has proposed: seamlessness, voluntary contribution, a mix of public domain and private data, shared metadata, and nonuniform scale. In addition to the key recommendations included in this summary the committee adds further recommendations in Chapter 5. The recommended actions could, when embraced and implemented, ensure that the USGS enters the twenty-first century with a sound national mapping strategy.

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