The quarter of a century since the publication of the original NRC report on a multipurpose cadastre has been one of unprecedented change in both geospatial data technology and policy. Although geospatial technologies were in their infancy in 1980, the committee at that time could still envision their capability to build a national cadastre. What it probably could not have foreseen was the infrastructure that was needed to truly make it possible—the Internet, standards, and the widespread use and understanding of geospatial technologies throughout all segments of society, even the general public. The concept of an NSDI has emerged and is even mandated as the way federal agencies should conduct their business. Many elements of the NSDI have taken shape, but the federal government has not developed nationwide land parcel data. At the same time, hundreds of local governments, several states, and many private companies have invested in parcel data systems that serve a multitude of needs. Internationally, national cadastres are widely accepted as a necessity for effective governance.
So why is the United States still struggling to create nationwide parcel data? One reason is that unlike the other NSDI framework data layers, most parcel data are developed and maintained by thousands of local government entities. To develop nationally consistent data requires a different operational model, based on coordination and partnerships among all levels of government. It has been suggested that the next phase in the development of spatial data infrastructures will require national governments to assume a coordination role while state and local governments and private industry take the lead in data production. The committee is optimistic that recent trends in geospatial data policy and initiatives show that the federal government is moving in this direction and is willing to seriously analyze the need for parcel data across the nation. Second, although many federal agencies need parcel data for various parts of the country at various times to carry out their missions, no single agency has had the combination of the need, mandate, and resources to integrate parcel data across the whole nation. This report has demonstrated that a national approach to parcel data is necessary, feasible, affordable, and timely, but challenges remain. Therefore, the committee has laid out a set of recommendations to help clarify the mandate and establish a practical framework for sustained coordination and funding. The committee hopes that establishing this framework will be the first step in moving forward with a national land parcel data program that will provide a new level of responsiveness and accountability in the way federal agencies serve the public.