USDA Forest Service Input to FGDC Agency Reports on NSDI Implementation- December 1999
Goal 1: Increase the awareness and understanding of the vision, concepts and benefits of the NSDI through outreach and education.
A major barrier that has been overcome in 1999 is the lack of technology to support NSDI efforts. As of February 1999, all Forest Service employees are using the new IBM technology which is located in all Forest Service offices, accessible to all Forest Service employees, and linked together in a communication network. Through this effort, the Forest Service has revolutionized the way the agency communicates and shares information through the use of electronic mail, word processing, and a common filing system for shared electronic information to support our Information Management requirements.
Since 1995, the Forest Service has been working on developing an NSDI implementation plan for the agency. Although we do not have a final plan in place that we are operating from, we have begun work on several projects which contribute to the implementation of tasks identified with NSDI. Many of our Forests are members of State Geographic Councils and have been posting their metadata and data on NSDI nodes. We also have developed a Geospatial Advisory Board and Committee to start addressing and prioritizing geospatial issues within the agency. This Board and Committee will help us move forward with NSDI implementation now that we have increased management commitment for such issues.
Goal 2: Develop common solutions for discovery, access, and use of geospatial data in response to the needs of diverse communities.
Metadata: The Forest Service has developed an interim geospatial data documentation project to address the requirement of Executive Order 12906 to document all new geospatial data produced by the agency. In meeting this requirement, the project will also meet some critical needs of field level operations in the area of geospatial information management. This is an interim approach because the expectation is that metadata documentation capabilities will become an integral part of geospatial data manipulation tools from vendors in the near future. There are two phases to out interim geospatial data documentation project. The first phase will develop a geospatial data documentation application to document geospatial data at Forest Service field offices. The second phase of this project will implement a metadata clearinghouse as a centralized database maintained through remote updates from field office databases.
The Forest Service has completed the first phase with the release of our Oracle application called Metadata Tracking Vehicle (MTV). MTV documents geospatial data in accordance with the FGDC Content Standards for Digital Geospatial Metadata (version 2.0). Now we will begin training users to document their data using MTV and other software solutions. The second phase of this project, determining which technologies will be used to serve the metadata and geospatial information, is currently in the planning stages. At least one of our National Forests, the Manti-LaSal National Forest in Utah, posts their metadata on the Southwest Data Center FGDC Metadata Clearinghouse node. We anticipate additional National Forests will be posting their metadata on existing Clearinghouse nodes as additional partnerships are developed with state and local entities.
The creation and implementation of a Geospatial Data Clearinghouse to make our data available on-line for internal and external access is currently in the planning stages. Our Geospatial Service and Technology Center (GSTC) in Salt Lake City, UT, is beginning a prototype of a clearinghouse for our base geographic data which are called Cartographic Feature Files (CFF). Later we will incorporate our resource data. The GSTC could serve as a metadata clearinghouse by maintaining electronic catalogs of all themes and classes of geospatial data, both current and historic, produced, held, and used by the agency. Once we have success with the prototype, we will establish a NSDI Clearinghouse node.
With the implementation of our IBM systems this past year, almost all of our field locations now have access to the internet and the FS intranet with Netscape and can use our Applix word processor to export web-ready documents. This will greatly increase our success of an electronic Clearinghouse as the agency is now beginning to have the necessary technology infrastructure in place to provide electronic access to our databases. In the meantime, the agency fulfills NSDI requirements for data dissemination with other tools such as phone calls, order forms, electronic mail, and fax.
The main barrier we find with implementation of metadata standards and developing clearinghouses is setting funding priorities for these projects. There is no line item in our budgets identified to carry out these tasks. These tasks must be placed in priority against other priorities during the time when our agency is facing reduced budgets.
3. Use community-based approaches to develop and maintain common collections of geospatial data for sound decision-making.
The Forest Service is actively involved with all FGDC subcommittees and working groups. We are the chair of the vegetation subcommittee.
The agency is still working on implementing our set of core spatial data layers and related attributes for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications to address general kinds of descriptive questions at the National Forest scale. The establishment of our core data layers and attributes will provide consistency across National Forest/Grassland boundaries and facilitate information sharing with partners. Implementing the core set of spatial layers and related attributes will help provide a unifying framework to establish a common language and common linkages with others (agencies, organizations, and individuals) who manage ecosystems. This set of spatial layers and attributes supports currently approved FGDC standards such as vegetation, soils, cadastral, and metadata, and provides the framework to adapt and conform to future FGDC standards as they are approved.
Core data is vital to sharing and exchanging of information with outside publics and other agencies. The Forest Service recognizes the need for cooperation between Federal, State, and local land managers if a shared database is to be developed. During the past year, the agency has begun work on a Natural Resource Information System (NRIS) to develop corporate resource databases . We have also migrated national resource applications such as Automated Lands Project (ALP) and Infrastructure, to our new IBM platform. We coordinated with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the data structures and data sources for the ALP application and are working together to deliver one standardized database to both agencies called the National Integrated Land System (NILS).
The Forest Service has several efforts in progress to define data needs, data structures, and information reporting requirements. Improved understanding of Forest Service data was the starting point for activities that are migrating applications and data to a new information management environment. An example is the initial successes in the process of automating Forest Service "administrative" information, and streamlining work processes in the areas of finance, procurement, and personnel. Because of the complexity and size of this undertaking, some projects are being developed in smaller stages and designed to be integrated later into a larger portion of the overall environment.
As resource and administrative information is increasingly organized and contained in electronic data structures the number of requests for copies and/or access will increase dramatically. The trend is that the Forest Service will be required to meet these requests by providing more direct on-line access to data structures rather than copies on magnetic media
4. Build relationships among organizations to support the continuing development of the NSDI.
Several of our Regions have data sharing partnerships in place, especially in the Northwest region where they coordinate data efforts with the Interorganizational Resource Information Coordinating Council. There are also several Regions (Northern, Southwest and Alaska regions) that participate in state and local geographic data coordinating organizations.
Representatives from the Forest Service information management organization participate on national and international standards committees in all areas of information systems disciplines (voice, data, and video communications; applications methodology; data definitions; Geographic Information Systems (GIS); etc.).
The Forest Service also established several working groups with the BLM to coordinate on items such as sharing resources at co-located sites, systems architecture, intranet access, and data standards. We have also completed several wide area assessments which have required coordinating data collection and analyses with other Federal, State, and local partners on a regional basis.
The Forest Service information management organization is working to interface and coalesce with external agencies and departments to help define and formulate national data standards for national resource information (particularly spatial or geographically referenced data) and for other technical and administrative information.
To maintain Forest Service leadership in natural resource management, research, and technical assistance into the 21st century, the Forest Service needs to take advantage of expanding technology to more effectively process, display, and use critical information resources. The Forest Service can best do this through integrated/shared data systems developed and managed within a coordinated framework of Forest Service programs and external information needs. Achieving this desired state requires a clear vision, or focus on the goal, and strategic guidelines for moving toward the vision. Achieving the vision requires strong management commitment, broad understanding and field involvement in change. A well structured, business process driven, standardized information technology and methodology is also required. The challenges, costs, and impacts of achieving the information management vision are significant. However, the benefits include improved long term ability to respond to issues with readily available, quality information, more informed decisions, better exchange of information with partners and customers, and less information and system duplication expense.