As the reports listed above indicate, there has been no lack of understanding or guidance over the past 27 years with regard to the development of land parcel data.


Although the land parcel system that was envisioned in the 1980s reports has not developed, much has changed regarding the development of a spatial data infrastructure and the associated geospatial data policy that could influence the development of national land parcel data. The relevant changes are described in this section.

Circular A-16 and the Federal Geographic Data Committee

The creation of geospatial data and the desire to do it efficiently have been concerns of the federal government for more than two centuries. The Land Ordinance of 1785 defined the system of land surveys that denoted the lands to be sold or transferred to settlers. An executive order in 1906 “granted advisory power to the United States Geographic Board to review mapping projects to avoid duplication and to facilitate standardized mapping” (Office of Management and Budget [OMB], 2002). A more recent effort was the issuance of Circular A-16 in 1953 with the purpose “to insure that surveying and mapping activities may be directed toward meeting the needs of federal and state agencies and the general public, and will be performed expeditiously, without duplication of effort.” Circular A-16 was revised in 1967, 1990, and 2002. The 1990 version created the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), to consist of representatives from the federal agencies that use geospatial data, and gave it the responsibility of coordinating federal geospatial data activities. Furthermore, the 2002 revision included the following powerful statement (OMB, 2002):

Implementation of this Circular is essential to help federal agencies eliminate duplication, avoid redundant expenditures, reduce resources spent on unfunded mandates, accelerate the development of electronic government to meet the needs and expectations of citizens and agency programmatic mandates, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public management.

Figure 2.1 summarizes the evolution of federal geospatial data policy since the issuance of Circular A-16 in 1953.

One of the first tasks of the FGDC was to establish categories of geospatial data and to develop communities of interest for each of them. The most commonly used sets of base data were designated as framework data layers (geodetic control, orthoimagery, elevation and bathymetry, transportation, hydrography, cadastral, and governmental units). The FGDC established subcommittees with a lead agency to oversee the development of content standards for each of these themes (Figure 2.2), as well as for other commonly used themes as needed.

FIGURE 2.1 Summary timeline of U.S. federal data policy since 1953. SOURCE: GAO, 2003b.

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