THE NATIONAL MAPPING DIVISION’S ROLE IN FEDERAL MAPPING
Despite the fact that the USGS, within the Department of the Interior (DOI), is responsible for what is called the National Mapping Program, there never has been a clearly defined federal commitment to providing multiuse, national-coverage maps and related geographic information for a broadly defined national community of public and private users. The historical reasons for this are complex and are beyond the scope of this report.
Major federal mapping responsibilities most relevant to this report are currently divided among three agencies of the U.S. government, one military and two civilian. The Department of Defense (DOD), through its Defense Mapping Agency (DMA), has responsibility for all geographic information outside the United States including maps, charts, and geodetic control and most geographic and navigational data necessary for DOD operations. DOD acquires most of the domestic map coverage it requires for operations from the USGS and National Ocean Survey. The National Ocean Survey (NOS) in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the Department of Commerce has responsibility for charting the shores, waterways, and airways of the country. NOS also maintains the national geodetic reference framework.
Mission-related needs for maps also involve many other federal departments or agencies in significant, more specialized, mapping programs. Among these are the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Corps of Engineers, the Soil Conservation Service, the Tennes-
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.
EVOLUTION OF NMD PRODUCTS
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
in a sense NMD will have accomplished a major task. With the completion of this 1:24,000-scale map series, NMD’s principal raison d’etre is changing to the equally challenging task of maintaining currency of these maps. Significant portions of the series are already out of date. A major ongoing revision effort, which NMD is now pursuing, is required. Indeed this would be the case even if computer technology had not raised entirely different issues. However, the major technological shift to digital cartographic data and map products suggests that NMD’s principal mandate should be substantially redefined, not only in terms of the technology used to produce maps but also in terms of the information that is represented.
For many purposes, the detail shown on 1:24,000 scale maps is not adequate for meeting all user needs. More detailed mapping of limited geographic scope has usually been done on an “as needed” basis by firms in the private sector, for governmental activities, private industry, and individuals.
In summary, the allocation of mapping responsibilities in this country has been in response to traditional and pragmatic economic and political conditions within the federal government rather than broad-based planning. In an era of significant technological transition, there appear to be good reasons for the federal government to appraise and possibly restructure the roles, goals, and mission of the USGS/NMD.
USERS OF NMD MAPS: THE CARTOGRAPHIC ENTERPRISE
In trying to define and describe user groups for NMD’s traditional products and services, it is easy to lapse into list-making. And as NMD’s recent Primary Mapping Economic Analysis documents2 show, the lists will be long. Perhaps a better approach is to realize that the primary users of NMD maps are, for the most part, other mappers. To determine how well the requirements of these users have traditionally been met, we must categorize them, and then describe the ways in which they use NMD products and services.
The provision of geographic information in the form of maps is the business of various organizations and institutions in our economy. Taken together, these map producers (and ancillary providers of map-related services, such as photogrammetric engineering firms and academic institutions that educate cartographers) constitute what might be called the “cartographic enterprise”—or at least it could be called that until the technological changes (described below) that have occurred suggested the need for a more appropriate label.
Within the cartographic enterprise it is convenient to distinguish between mapping organizations in the public and private sectors.
Public Sector Mappers
In the public sector, a useful distinction can be drawn between federal and nonfederal mapping; the former can be further divided between military and civilian sectors, as described above, and the latter includes mapping done by state, county, and city governments as well as mapping done by special-purpose government agencies such as those charged with wildlife management, sanitary systems, zoning, and so on. Public sector mapping has been supported increasingly by private sector mappers.
Private Sector Mappers
In the private, for-profit, sector of the economy there are essentially two different kinds of mapping organizations. These can arbitrarily be identified as Type A and Type B mappers.
Type A Mappers: Maps as Products
Type A mappers produce and publish map products for sale to relatively large, diverse markets. Road atlases, recreation and travel guides, and reference books are typical products. The maps in such products are relatively small in scale and large in areal extent of coverage. The business of Type A mappers is to sell maps as end products in and of themselves.
Type B Mappers: Maps as Tools
Type B mappers, on the other hand, create maps as tools, tools that are not always end products, but rather allow the real business of organizations to take place (e.g., government programs, utility or facility management, planning, construction, and mineral extraction). Often the firm needing maps as tools does not actually do its own mapping, but purchases the services from an outside supplier. Since these outside suppliers often provide similar services on contract to mapping or other organizations in the public sector, the division between public and private sector mapping is not always a sharp one. Type B maps tend to be application-specific, reproduced in very small quantities, very detailed, and of large scale.
NMD AND THE ASSESSMENT OF USER REQUIREMENTS
The A-16 process (see Appendix C for details) continues to be NMD’s primary tool for assigning priorities to federal agency requests for topographic map creation and updating, primarily the latter as the 1:24,000 series nears
completion. We shall see that as the “digital revolution” creates a new potential for meeting expanded national needs and new tensions about the allocation of scarce resources, the A-16 process might need to be altered, both as a concept and as a set of procedures.
The above distinctions among various categories of mappers are useful in distinguishing among NMD product user groups and assessing user satisfaction. Before any conclusions about user satisfaction can be reached, however, the ways in which NMD has traditionally gone about user assessment must be examined.
Until a reorganization took place at NMD in early 1989, there was no clear responsibility in the organization for assessment of user requirements. The chief task of NMD, until quite recently, has been the extension of 1:24,000 mapping to cover the entire country. Choices as to what should be done next were limited and the major questions involved determination of which new quadrangles should be given priority in the production or revision queue. The A-16 process has been utilized to resolve this matter.
The A-16 Process
The A-16 process, the primary mechanism used by NMD to determine map requirements of other federal agencies, came about as the result of Circular A-16 issued by the Bureau of the Budget (now Office of Management and Budget, or OMB) in 1953 and revised in 1967. Circular A-16’s intent is to facilitate coordination of disparate federal mapping activities, and it assigns responsibility for such coordination to the USGS’s National Mapping Program. It is generally accepted that a 1983 OMB memorandum expanded the USGS/NMD role and the A-16 process to include responsibility for providing leadership and coordination in digital cartography as well.
As part of the A-16 process, NMD annually solicits mapping requirements from approximately 36 federal agencies. It appears that only about one-third of these agencies respond. The reasons why many of these solicited agencies do not respond are important to this analysis of user requirements and the subsequent satisfaction.
Nonresponding agencies include the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Postal Service, and others. Generally speaking, these agencies need more detailed (larger scale) maps, usually for urban areas. The fact that their needs are not being met by the current National Mapping Program is not a trivial issue.
Federal Mapping Conferences
On a very occasional basis the USGS has organized conferences at which representatives of various federal agencies have been asked to comment on the USGS topographic mapping program. Remarks made at a Federal Map Users
Conference on the National Topographic Program in 1964 generally indicate a shared belief that the topographic maps produced by the USGS are accurate general-purpose maps for map users. As the Assistant Secretary of Mineral Resources in the Department of the Interior put it, they “are unquestionably useful.”3
In 1981, a Federal Mapping Coordination Conference brought together a similar assemblage of federal users. By this time, many of the needs of the federal agencies involved had changed, and map data in digital form had become an important matter. However, when the Bureau of the Census asked about a digital 1:100,000 scale map series, the Survey responded that because there was a “lack of identified user requirements, we do not now anticipate digitizing them.”4 At this conference, there were also indications of shifts in federal users’ interest from the more traditional emphasis on terrain data to “transportation and land net” information. The USGS responded to this with reference to a marketing study that emphasized terrain and hydrography needs.
It seems safe to assert that until very recently NMD’s programs and products were determined more by the momentum of tradition than by information the USGS obtained about user requirements or user satisfaction levels. In all fairness, however, the market for topographic maps for many decades seems to have been a rather passive one. State and local governments, whose geographic information needs are similar to those of federal agencies, used what topographic maps they could, and made do or created alternatives when it was essential to do so. Budget constraints have also been a significant factor relative to the ability to satisfy user’s requirements. To offset these constraints, the USGS has established cost-sharing and work-sharing programs to augment their productivity.
Current and Emergent User Requirements Not Addressed by NMD
Urban governments and other specialized agencies who needed more detailed maps than the 7 1/2-minute quadrangles were obligated to create their own, sometimes using topographic quadrangles as a sort of “skeleton” or framework to which their own surveys and data could be anchored. Commercial mappers (Type A) make relatively little direct use of 1:24,000 quadrangles because the scale is too large and the marketable geographic units (usually political) do not coincide with the arbitrary boundaries of quadrangles. Nevertheless they do tend to draw on state departments of transportation for map bases, which often have been created from USGS topographic maps.
Traditionally the general flow of geographic information (in the form of maps) has been one-directional, outward from NMD to users with whom they are in close touch (other federal agencies and state and local cooperators) to
users with shared natural resource interests outside the federal establishment, and finally to the unconsulted “goodies over the fence” users, including recreational users not served by the commercial road map publishers. Prior to the introduction of digital techniques in the cartographic process, there was no effective way to send geographic information created by nonfederal or federal participants in the cartographic enterprise back into NMD’s programs. But with the capabilities of computers and telecommunications, this can change. It is probable that future processes could be established by the USGS whereby some of their major users could act as “data donors” in providing significant data back to NMD.
While the need for urban level map products is well established and the concept of a donor program an excellent one, there are emerging requirements driven largely by science, policy, and resource management needs for map products at scales from local to global. These needs are also being driven by the increasing global concern for the status of our natural environment. This concern is being manifested by such emerging programs as the Global Change Initiative and the Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction currently under intense discussion by the Committee on Earth Sciences (of the Federal Coordinating Committee on Science, Engineering, and Technology) and the international community.
Should the concept embedded in the global change initiative be implemented, federal agencies such as the Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the USGS will have both operational and research requirements for maps of land surface features particularly at regional, continental, and global scales. Such maps could support the efforts of international agencies such as the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WMO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Disaster Relief Fund, and the World Bank. These organizations will be interested in not only these maps but also maps at other scales if the Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction Program is implemented. Implementation of this program would again serve to create a mandate for new types of map requirements not only from a number of the federal agencies listed above, but also from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). It is clear to the committee that should these initiatives be implemented, requirements for new classes of map products will be generated by a variety of federal agencies. It would be inefficient, redundant, and ineffective for each of these agencies to provide its own map products of appropriate land use/land cover themes. NMD has the expertise and the track record to respond to such requirements.