see Valley Authority, the Bureau of the Census, and others. These agencies must generate maps in order to accomplish their data-gathering missions. In addition, the Federal Highway Administration within the Department of Transportation, directly and through funding programs, has had traditional responsibility for mapping streets, roads, and highways. Clearly, a federal government that has direct responsibility for administering about one-third of the U.S. land area will have significant needs for information about the arrangement of things (and people) and processes occurring on the nation’s landscape.


The National Mapping Division (NMD) of the USGS evolved from the Corps of Topographical Engineers, which was formed in 1838 to map the little known western lands of the then conterminous United States. The current division was established in 1980 and is the lineal descendant of the Topographic Branch of USGS that was established in 1879. NMD is currently the smallest of three principal divisions of the USGS, the other two being the Water Resources Division and the Geologic Division, and for many decades the mapping it carried out was perceived essentially as a support service for determining the geologic and hydrologic nature of the country.

In a sense, the current National Mapping Program can be viewed as a by-product of research in earth science disciplines. It has great value as such, but this traditional emphasis on physical (or “natural”) resources as primary map categories and regional level, relatively large scales for its maps has given it certain biases. These biases restrict its value to potential users across the nation who have different geographic information requirements—be they socioeconomic, geopolitical, scientific, cultural, or demographic in nature—or require this information with finer texture (larger scale).

It is useful to view the National Mapping Program of the Department of Interior from this perspective, as a “by-product of scientific research in the earth sciences.” A recent article1 finds this attitude common among scientists and engineers who design solutions for their own particular problems and then make these solutions available to the world at large. It is called “throwing goodies over the fence.”

Although the USGS/NMD produces and publishes a great variety of textual data and a number of general- and special-purpose map series at scales ranging from 1:24,000 to 1:1,000,000 and smaller, the primary product is the 1:24,000, 7 1/2-minute topographic quadrangle series. This map series includes some 57,000 sheets and is the only uniform map series that covers the entire area of the United States in considerable detail. The series will be completed in 1990, and

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