The goal of this study was to highlight the status of land parcel databases in the United States, provide a vision for the future, and develop a strategy to complete this National Spatial Data Infrastructure framework data layer. Specific tasks included the following:

  • Identify the benefits of accurate parcel databases to all stakeholders (public and private);

  • Describe the current status of parcel databases across the nation at all levels of government;

  • Document what has been shown to be possible at a local, regional, and state level, using examples of successful systems; and

  • Provide a vision of what could be possible nationwide, and identify a strategy to achieve the vision, including the role of the federal agencies, and accounting for challenges that must be overcome.

This study was sponsored by five organizations, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Census Bureau, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), the Department of Homeland Security, and Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). The study committee was composed of 10 members with expertise in the development of cadastres, surveying, property assessment, county administration, the mortgage information services and insurance industries, and the use of geographic data and tools for public policy. The committee included representation from various levels of government, including county, state, and tribal. It also included members from academia and the private sector.

The committee met four times. One of the meetings was a Land Parcel Data Summit, which brought together senior representatives from federal agencies, the private sector, and professional organizations that develop and/or use land parcel data (see Appendix C). Comments on a national land parcel data set were also received from a much broader group of 400 practitioners, end users, and other stakeholders via an online forum. Finally, the committee made extensive use of published documents and reports on the current status of land parcel data in the United States, templates for cadastral standards, and examples of successful systems and case studies on the uses of cadastral data from various sources, such as the FGDC Subcommittee for Cadastral Data.


Although there are several possible definitions for land parcels, one of the simplest and most persistent is the one included in Multipurpose Land Information Systems: The Guidebook (Epstein and Moyer, 1993, p. 13-2):

A parcel is an unambiguously defined unit of land within which a bundle of rights and interests are legally recognized in a community. A parcel encloses a contiguous area of land for which location and boundaries are known, described, and maintained, and for which there is a history of defined, legally recognized interests.

The FGDC Content Standard for Cadastral Data uses a similar definition but recognizes that a parcel does not have to be contiguous. For the purposes of this report, a parcel is defined as the primary unit of surface ownership, including public and privately held lands. In many local jurisdictions (counties and cities), the surface ownership is represented by the real estate tax parcel. This is the unit of land ownership that is most often maintained and used by local governments, represents the immediately visible ownership, and provides a definition of the landscape that will meet most business needs. For publicly managed parcels, such as lands managed by local, state, or U.S. agencies, the comparable unit to the real estate tax parcel is the surface management parcel.

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