Findings and Recommendations
State, local, and regional governments have the potential to become a significant, and possibly the most sizable, market of civilian users of remote sensing data and applications. However, because they have responsibility for making a broad range of management decisions daily, officials in state and local government must have accurate, affordable, and accessible geospatial information that can be used alone or in combination with other types of statistical and administrative data and information. At its January 2002 workshop, the Space Studies Board’s Steering Committee on Space Applications and Commercialization heard about wide-ranging and sophisticated applications of both satellite and airborne remote sensing data and information developed by state, local, and regional governments in the United States. Examples of remote sensing applications discussed at the workshop include the use of lidar for creating digital floodplain maps in North Carolina, the use of digital orthophotography and satellite remote sensing data to assess the impact of urban development in Richland County, South Carolina, and the use of Landsat data and high-resolution remote sensing data to map forested areas in Baltimore City and County. It also learned that the use of remote sensing data in management and decision making is currently uneven across the nonfederal public sector.
After several decades of little change in the sources of and technologies for using geospatial data, state and local governments have found that the field is now being transformed by technological change. Previously the mainstay of state and local government remote sensing applications, aerial remote sensing data, which were interpreted by photogrammetrists, are now used in combination with new types of data to meet the growing and increasingly more sophisticated needs of
state and local governments. Many jurisdictions also now use digital geospatial data from a number of sources, including multi- or hyperspectral remote sensing data and data from radar, lidar, GIS, and global positioning systems.
The rapid pace of innovation in geospatial data technologies, and the corresponding increase in requirements for data management, in turn increase the technical, budgetary, and management demands made on state and local officials. Data collection, once routinely governed by contracts between a nonfederal public entity and its local airborne remote sensing contractors, is also changing. Some remotely sensed data are available only from global-scale data collection instruments, such as Earth observation satellites. These data are obtained from federal government, commercial, or non-U.S. satellite data providers, and their use is governed by a nonstandardized array of cost, licensing, and access restrictions. State, local, and regional governments may also have to employ technical consultants who can obtain and analyze remotely sensed data, including data from airborne sensors, some of which specialize in collecting bare-earth elevations that provide particularly good data on shorelines and bodies of water.
Critical elements in building the capacity of state and local government to use remote sensing include technical personnel, management and policy personnel, and hardware and software for data management and decision support. In an earlier report, Transforming Remote Sensing Data into Information and Applica tions, the steering committee suggested not only that technical personnel receive training in remote sensing applications, but also that managers and decision makers receive training in the ways the data can be used.1 The steering committee reiterates the importance of this point for state, county, local, and regional governments, recognizing that this training may have to be tailored specifically to managers and decision makers and offered at meetings the managers would be likely to attend.
Although they provide many benefits, these recent technological changes also pose problems for the nonfederal public sector. State and local government responsibilities and expenditures are driven by budgets, laws, regulations, and politics and are often subject to practices and requirements that make it difficult to obtain and manage remote sensing data. For example, many local government officials report that their use of remote sensing data is now or will soon be limited by the capacity of their data storage facilities. Moreover, because state and local governments characteristically have stable staffing with little turnover, they may find it difficult to respond to technological change and related requirements for new expertise for implementing remote sensing applications. Increasingly, state and local governments are facing tight budgets and even shortfalls, which makes
it difficult for these jurisdictions to afford the array of hardware, software, and personnel necessary to adopt new technologies for using geospatial data and information.
The steering committee found that the adoption of remote sensing data and applications was often related to having a strong advocate for the new technology in local government. This person could be an elected official, as in Baltimore, where the mayor is very supportive of improving the city’s maps. More often the advocate is a government employee with a technical understanding of the potential value of the data for management and decision making, a person enthusiastic about the potential of remote sensing to contribute to the nonfederal public sector and willing to work with officials at all levels in the government.
The decision to invest in remote sensing data requires acceptance at multiple levels of state, local, or regional government. As one workshop participant noted, no politician ever lost an election because of remote sensing. But decisions about adopting and continuing to use remote sensing inevitably involve both technical and operational managers (including budget managers) and ultimately must also reflect the priorities of elected officials. Among the workshop’s case studies of the use of remote sensing by state, local, and regional governments, two such uses—North Carolina’s commitment to update and modernize its floodplain maps, and the formation of multijurisdictional consortia in the Red River Valley of the Upper Midwest to create new contour maps of the region—were the direct result of natural disasters. The prospect of recurrent losses in the range of billions of dollars undoubtedly influenced the policy decision to spend significant funds on new remote sensing data and applications that would improve regional response-and-recovery efforts in case of future hazards.
Persuading nontechnical public sector managers and elected officials of the value of remote sensing data and information is dependent on producing cost-effective information products. Although several participants in the workshop warned against reducing public presentations on remote sensing to “pretty pictures,” the steering committee found that the images themselves have value in attracting the interest of nontechnical managers and officials. Once their interest is gained, officials are more likely to consider the utility of the data. Examples of the financial and management benefits of remote sensing data are also very persuasive in making a case for the use of remote sensing information.
Drawing on the experiences of state, local, and regional governments already using new remote sensing data and related geospatial technologies, the steering committee found that increased use of remote sensing data and applications in the nonfederal public sector is also related to (1) improvements in the management and efficient use of geospatial data, (2) creation of an effective nonfederal public sector market for remote sensing, and (3) cooperation between federal and nonfederal government agencies and entities.
IMPROVING MANAGEMENT AND EFFICIENCY
The state, local, and regional governments that have successfully begun to use remote sensing data and information for management and decision making have often been forced to reexamine certain types of management practices so as to reduce the cost and increase the efficiencies of developing remote sensing applications. It is administratively and economically advantageous for state and local governments that are considering the use of new remote sensing technologies or are just beginning to use remote sensing data and applications to learn from the organizational practices of governments that have already demonstrated successful adoption of remote sensing applications.
Geospatial Data Management
Based on its analysis of the case studies presented at the workshop, the steering committee found that effective management of geospatial data can contribute significantly to state, local, and regional government adoption and use of remote sensing data. Some state and local governments reported at the workshop that purchases and users of remote sensing data are spread through several departments. In some jurisdictions, there were multiple purchases of the same data and ineffective management and utilization of those geospatial data resources.
Because of the increased convergence of digital geospatial data such as satellite and airborne remote sensing, GIS, and even global positioning systems, jurisdictions can manage their use of geospatial data more efficiently and with less redundancy under a single administrative entity rather than separately in different departments or agencies within the jurisdiction. Whether administrative responsibility rests with a GIS coordinator, a chief information officer, or a geospatial data manager is less important than that the data, technologies, and development of applications are managerially linked. Such centralization will also facilitate the adoption of national and international spatial data standards.
Recommendation 1: A state, local, or regional government should consider making a single unit responsible for managing its geospatial data, information, and technologies.
Cross-Jurisdictional Remote Sensing Data Cooperatives
The cost of obtaining and managing remote sensing data can be prohibitive for state, local, and regional government departments or agencies, particularly during a period of budget shortfalls. The steering committee found that some governments in the nonfederal public sector have successfully joined to form local or regional cooperatives or consortia that purchase remote sensing data for all members of the group. This arrangement allows them to pool their resources
and to amortize the cost of obtaining and storing data across multiple jurisdictions, providing efficiencies in monitoring contracts, licensing, and managing the data. In short, remote sensing or geospatial data cooperatives can improve data utilization and sharing and can minimize taxpayer expense.
Data cooperatives can also help small jurisdictions to manage remote sensing and other digital data by providing data storage capacity and fostering the creation of common datasets and GIS base maps for regional or cross-jurisdictional purposes. The existence of common base maps permits both governments and their constituents to focus on the issues at hand rather than on data quality and differences.
Recommendation 2: Public officials responsible for obtaining and using geospatial data should examine the benefits of forming multijurisdictional consortia or cooperatives to reduce duplication of cost and effort.
The purchase of remote sensing data does not fit easily into state or local government procurement processes. Governments in the nonfederal public sector often have little expertise in purchasing remote sensing data, particularly satellite remote sensing data. In addition, the procurement process can be lengthy and time-consuming from the perspectives of both the data vendor and the public sector official who will be using the data. It can also be derailed unexpectedly because of political or budget changes that are unrelated to the anticipated use of the data.
In natural disasters or emergencies, the time required for normal procurement processes can make the timely purchase of remote sensing data impossible. The experience of New York City offers an alternative approach. By establishing a long-term purchase agreement with a local university, New York City had the flexibility it needed to obtain geospatial data in response to the events of September 11.
A separate procurement problem faced in working with federal government agencies is that differences in the fiscal year between the federal and most nonfederal public sector entities create additional problems.
From the perspective of budget officials in state, local, and regional governments, remote sensing data are difficult to categorize for accounting purposes. It is not always clear whether the cost of the data should be seen as a capital or an operating expense. Moreover, expenditures for remote sensing data are likely to occur unevenly within and across fiscal years—a source of problems, given that budgets for state and local jurisdictions generally assume marginal changes in recurring costs, and state and local governments cannot carry over expenditures from one budget year to the next.
Recommendation 3: State and local government budget and procurement prac
tices should be examined and modified, if necessary, to facilitate acquisition of multiyear remote sensing data.
An independent body such as the Government Accounting Standards Board—a private, nonprofit institution that develops reporting standards for state, local, county, and other nonfederal government entities—or another independent accounting organization could be consulted for input on how to account more effectively for expenditures on remote sensing data.
Recommendation 4: State and local governments should explore the feasibility of establishing long-term purchase agreements with local institutions or vendors to give themselves flexibility in obtaining remote sensing data.
CREATING A MORE EFFECTIVE PUBLIC SECTOR MARKET FOR REMOTE SENSING DATA
A large and active public sector market for remote sensing data and information will provide economies of scale for governments seeking cost-effective remote sensing applications and for those in the public and private sectors who supply data and services to state and local governments. The steering committee learned that there are many ways that a more active and effective market for state and local applications of remote sensing data and information can be created, including by developing standards for digital spatial data and information products, encouraging the private remote sensing industry to build a market in the nonfederal public sector, and establishing opportunities to advertise state and local remote sensing data requirements to remote sensing data and service providers.
Standards for Digital Spatial Data and Information Products
Many state and local governments are adept at dealing with photogrammetric standards for spatial (mapping) data. However, the increasing dominance of digital data means that common standards are needed for digital spatial data and information as well as remote sensing data products, which are inherently digital. The advantages of having commonly accepted digital spatial data standards are lower costs, improved ability to use the data for multiple purposes, standardization of technical training, and quality assurance. The adoption of digital data standards would require that procurement regulations be revised for many state and local entities. A coordinating body composed of key stakeholders and led by a federal agency could develop digital spatial data standards. Those federal agencies involved in this effort could identify which agency should take the lead.
Recommendation 5: The U.S. government, in collaboration with professional
organizations, state and local governments, and vendors, should take the lead in establishing standards for digital spatial data and information products.
Private Actions to Build a Public Sector Market
Although commercial remote sensing image providers recognize the potential economic significance of the nonfederal public sector market for remote sensing data, they often do not do enough to stimulate the development and growth of this market. Many workshop participants pointed to the successful efforts of GIS software companies to increase the numbers of trained technical personnel and thus increase the demand for their products through training programs and national conferences.
Recommendation 6: To help remedy the lack of trained remote sensing personnel in state and local governments and to raise awareness of the advantages of working with satellite remote sensing data, commercial satellite data providers and remote sensing digital image processing vendors should look to GIS software companies as models for building the state and local government market.
The licensing provisions of commercial satellite data companies seem restrictive, offering little flexibility to state and local governments. Commercial licensing provisions, if strictly followed, can add to the cost of purchasing remote sensing data. In some cases, the licenses may lead to redundant purchases of the same data within a single jurisdiction.
Licensing restrictions also affect the ability of state and local governments to resell geospatial data, a practice that many agencies use to leverage the cost of developing data on roads, parcels, or other local features and the cost of purchasing aerial photography, for instance. In these situations, strict licensing provisions for state and local governments constitute a disincentive for jurisdictions to purchase data from the private sector. At the workshop, representatives of private sector satellite firms suggested that it is possible to negotiate new licensing agreements based on individual state and municipal needs. However, officials from state and local governments who use remote sensing data indicated at the workshop that they were not aware of this potential flexibility.
Recommendation 7: Private sector providers of remote sensing images should offer standard information about flexibility in their pricing policies, ensuring that the information is widely available, especially information about jurisdiction-wide site licenses or long-term purchase agreements for state and local governments.
Opportunities to Work with the Public Sector
The steering committee found that there is no clearinghouse or single source of information on the remote sensing data requirements of state, local, and regional governments. The absence of a central information source on public sector data requirements restricts the market for services and data to firms in the immediate area or to those that have personal contacts with the public sector entity that is contracting for remote sensing data or services. If all the sources of data were local, such a practice might be reasonable, but remote sensing data are increasingly produced nationally or internationally, and involvement of the larger potential contracting community may help to keep pricing competitive.
Recommendation 8: Associations of state and local governments should establish national or statewide opportunities/forums for state, local, and regional governments to advertise their needs for remote sensing data.
COOPERATION BETWEEN THE FEDERAL AND NONFEDERAL PUBLIC SECTORS
The steering committee found widespread cooperation between federal agencies and state, local, and regional governments in developing remote sensing data applications. However, although this cooperation assisted both agencies and governments in doing their jobs better than they could have done alone, it focused on remote sensing applications that were developed for specific government programs rather than on general support to state and local governments that seek help in obtaining and using federal remote sensing data. There was little evidence of systematic attempts by federal agencies to provide a point of contact and means of facilitating collaboration with nonfederal governments in the development of remote sensing applications.
Recommendation 9: Federal agencies should have a formal point of contact for representatives of state and local governments that need technical assistance or want to identify sources of financial assistance for their use of remote sensing applications.