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FGDC Newsletter Spring 1998

Subcommittees Key to FGDC Mission

One of the FGDC's main roles is to help implement standards that define complex geospatial data types that are broadly accepted and used by professionals in the federal, state, local and private sectors.

In order to carry out this role, much of the FGDC's day-to-day work involves coordinating subcommittees and working groups. It's at this level that standards proposals are developed from diverse perspectives. The subcommittees also solicit public input during the development, review, and evaluation process.

"The subcommittees are where standards proposals are developed and they are critical to the overall functioning of the FGDC," explained John Moeller, staff director of the FGDC. A subcommittee is generally chaired by a federal agency that is a member of the FGDC and typically has an ownership interest in the data theme. The chair selects a diverse group of people from other federal agencies as well as other levels of government and the private sector to help with the process of creating standards. Some examples of current subcommittee work are highlighted here.

Subcommittee on Base Cartographic Data

The Subcommittee on Base Cartographic Data (SCBD) subcommittee coordinates development of standards for fundamental data sets for national series general purpose graphic and digital cartographic products. The subcommittee is chaired by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and its membership includes representatives from a dozen federal bureaus and agencies.

Two standards were put out for review in March of 1997: the Content Standard for Digital Orthoimagery and the Content Standard for Digital Elevation Data. The orthoimagery and elevation standards both are important to help solidify the overall National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) within the context of core geography.

"The biggest challenge in coordinating these standards is to get buy-in," said John Crowe, a member of the subcommittee and the raster data coordinator for the USGS National Mapping Division. According to Crowe, the subcommittee invited members of the private sector to participate on the adjudication panel - the panel that reviews public comments and decides whether and how to implement suggestions. "Based on the reviews, significant modifications are being made to the standard to improve usability and expand applicability to a broader audience," said Crowe.

Subcommittee on Cadastral Data

The Subcommittee on Cadastral Data (SCD) recently completed work on the Cadastral Data Content Standard. It has been released by the FGDC and is available over the Internet and in hardcopy form. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the lead agency for cadastral data. Input was solicited from state and local governments and private industry in developing the standard.

According to Don Buhler, Chief Cadastral Surveyor for the BLM and chair of the subcommittee, the members of the team that put together the standard focused on cadastral data needed to support decision making at various levels of government and private industry.

The development team used a structured approach which included the creation of a logical data model to capture data relationships. This approach is being recommended by the FGDC Standards Working Group to other subcommittees for their standards development.

Subcommittee on Cultural and Demographic Data

The Subcommittee on Cultural and Demographic Data recently submitted a proposal for Governmental Unit Boundary Data Content Standard to public review. The lead agency for the subcommittee is the Bureau of the Census.The standard proposal can be found at

"The standard is mostly designed to provide consistency in maintaining and interchanging governmental unit boundaries so that data collected between the boundaries can be analyzed," said Dan Karlson, administrator of the subcommittee. Governmental units are defined by various agencies, such as the Census Bureau, but it is the goal of the standard to provide consistency for describing all governmental unit boundaries. These include any geographic entity legally established for the purpose of implementing administrative or governmental functions such as the nation, states, American Indian reservations, counties, and other legal minor civil divisions.

Information on these and other standards, as well as subcommittees and working groups, is available at the FGDC's web site ( To go directly to the standards status page, enter

NSDI Stakeholders Praise Inclusion

To further the NSDI goals, the FGDC works with a variety of stakeholder groups or partners that help provide perspectives beyond those of the federal government agencies that make up the FGDC Steering Committee. These partners include cooperating state councils, the National League of Cities (NLC), the National Association of Counties (NACo), the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC). In addition, the OpenGIS Consortium and the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science have been working with the FGDC and its partners to further the development of the NSDI. Recently, we spoke to management at three of the associations to gain an understanding of why the partnership is important to them.

National League of Cities (NLC). The NLC serves the needs and interests of municipal governments, and is dedicated to strengthening the performance and capabilities of local governments and advocating the interests of local communities. The NLC is the newest NSDI strategic partner, having joined toward the end of 1997.

According to Jamie Woodwell, NLC's manager of research, there are two main coordination concerns for cities when it comes to geographic information: (1) being able to use other organizations' data; and (2) collecting and maintaining municipal data so it can be used within municipalities and elsewhere. "When you look at geographic information, cities are huge users and repositories of this data - to the degree that working with federal, state and county governments is a necessity, it makes a lot of sense to coordinate this activity," said Woodwell.

National Association of Counties (NACo). NACo represents 3,072 US counties and is a full-service organization that provides legislative, research, technical and public affairs assistance to its members. Among the services NACo provides are access to an Information Technology Center, which keeps county officials abreast of changes in advanced technologies.

Wyn Lyday is director of the department of information at NACo. "Obviously, counties play a critical role in the whole area of land records so they clearly have to be involved in building the NSDI," said Lyday. "This is a wonderful partnership that shows what intergovernmental cooperation is all about, and it has the full support of our president, Randy Johnson, who is the chairman of the Board of Commissioners for Hennepin County in Minnesota."

National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC). NSGIC is an active organization representing states' interests. It is committed to informed and effective government through the wise use of spatial information and technologies. Given that one of NSGIC's key goals is to encourage the coordinated development of geographic information so that it can be integrated at all levels of government, it is not surprising to find it in partnership with the FGDC.

"The states have been involved in their own individual efforts toward building local infrastructures for many years, long before NSDI," said Dennis Goreham, president of NSGIC and manager of the Automated Geographic Reference Center for the state of Utah. "Being part of the NSDI partnership helps NSGIC educate its members about NSDI and what the difference components mean." This can be very important to states because if they're managing spatial data similarly, they can work on issues that cross state lines.

NAPA Study Released

FGDC Invites Public Comment

The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) released a report this January that is required reading for anyone involved in producing or using geographic information. The report, titled "Geographic Information for the 21st Century: Building a Strategy for the Nation," was developed by NAPA at the request of the BLM, the USGS, the Forest Service and the National Ocean Service. A group of panelists including Academy Fellows and experts in the geographic information field began work on the report in late 1996.

The panel was asked to address a variety of issues related to geographic information, including: defining the role of geographic information in keeping the U.S. competitive in a global economy, examining the appropriate role of the federal government in civilian surveying, mapping and other geographic information, examining the effectiveness and possible economic impact of transferring suitable functions to the private sector, and possible opportunities for consolidation and restructuring of surveying, mapping, and other geographic information functions for greater economy and performance.

The panel agreed that the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) vision should be wholeheartedly supported, and their major finding is that any structural or organizational changes which might come about within the federal government should be undertaken with that end in mind. The NSDI vision, as represented in a recent FGDC strategy document, is that current and accurate data will be readily available to contribute locally, nationally, and globally to economic growth, environmental quality and stability and social progress.

While the report does include recommendations about restructuring and consolidating federal agencies' mapping functions, the most important recommendations for geographic information professionals are those that advance the development of the NSDI. These included the call to establish through legislation a national goal to create and maintain a robust NSDI, and to create a private, nonprofit National Spatial Data Council (NSDC), modelled on the current FGDC and NSDI charters, with appropriate representation by all levels of government and the private sector.

The report compliments the FGDC's progress in bringing NSDI goals to fruition, and suggests that the new NSDC would work in tandem with the FGDC to move NSDI initiatives forward.

The NAPA report was discussed by FGDC stakeholders at their January 13 partnership meeting. According to a memorandum from John Moeller, FGDC staff director, inviting public review and comment on the report, "The general feeling of the group was that [the report] offered many recommendations and opportunities for furthering the implementation of the NSDI. It also was the feeling of the group that the community should give careful review and consideration to the report and then reach consensus on those recommendations on which they could move forward together. Secretary Bruce Babbitt provided guidance to the group that it should look for opportunities to work on those areas of agreement and that it should set aside those recommendations dealing with Federal agency reorganization issues." Moeller also cautioned that the type of legislation that may be required to establish the National Spatial Data Council is difficult to obtain.

The full NAPA report is available from NAPA headquarters for $30. In addition, an informative executive summary can be viewed at NAPA's web site (

News about NSDI Initiatives


How do we know how we are doing at building the NSDI?

That was the question that was at the core of a "Measures of Progress" workshop that took place January 21-23 in Kansas City, MO. The workshop examined critical issues relating not only to measuring progress but also to promoting and spreading the NSDI vision.

"The workshop was thought to be a great success by those who participated," said Kathy Covert, the FGDC's state liaison. "We had people from all quadrants of the country and had a nice mix of representatives from state, county, city and tribal governments, as well as the private sector and academia.."

A total of 19 participants identified five elements that must be present for successful data sharing. These "themes" should be woven into measures of NSDI progress. They are:

  • Mutual benefit
  • Incentives
  • Champions
  • Partnership and inclusiveness
  • Data availability

Participants then developed three approaches that can be used to measure progress in building the NSDI. First, objective measures are activities or outcomes that can actually be counted. They might include, for example, the number of clearinghouse nodes, the number of NSDI documented data sets, the number of vendors using Open GIS specifications and the number of students learning about geographic information sciences.

Second, components of success form the basis of a self-assessment tool that organizations can use independently to analyze their progress toward participating in the NSDI vision. Among others, questions that self-assessing organizations would ask themselves include: "Are cooperative groups formed?", "Are all interests of the community involved?", "Is there a coordinated ongoing effort or strategy for funding?", and "Are complaint clearinghouse nodes being established?"

Third, sustaining systems addresses organizational and individual efforts required to maintain NSDI-development activities over time. Sustaining systems includes the nurturing NSDI champions and volunteers, gaining and maintaining political support, promoting up-to-date technical knowledge within the community and instilling pride in accomplishment.

In general, the participants felt that significant progress in building NSDI is already being made, but that indicators need to be further refined to be sure the process stays on track. The report of this workshop can be found at the FGDC home page.


More Than 2,000 Framework Data Survey Responses Received To Date!

As many readers know, the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) and the FGDC are surveying thousands of agencies at all levels of government as part of developing the NSDI (see FGDC Newsletter N.S. Vol. 1 No. 1, Winter 1997, "The Framework Survey is Underway!" pg. 3). The ultimate goal of the survey is to create a "snapshot" of the status of digital geographic data in the United States, with a special focus on "framework" data layers (transportation, hydrography, elevation, digital orthoimagery, political units, geodetic control, cadastral reference system and cadastral land ownership).

Almost all states are actively participating in the survey effort at this time. Each state has a designated coordinator who is administering the survey in that state. Thanks to the diligent efforts of these coordinators, more than 2,000 surveys have already been returned. Many coordinators are enthusiastic about the survey because it helps them gather needed information about spatial data creators in their state. Final responses should be coming in by the end of March, and NSGIC and the FGDC will publish a report and make the results available in digital form later this year.


Clearinghouse Boasts More Than 60 Registered Sites At The End Of 1997

Among the major achievements of the Clearinghouse Working Group is the registration of more than 60 clearinghouse node sites all using the compatible metadata (Z39.50 protocol) standard. "These sites are all searchable using the same formats," said Doug Nebert, the FGDC's clearinghouse activities coordinator. In addition, Nebert recently created a query interface allowing users to browse all the sites. This interface is accessible at

Many of the organizations that have developed clearinghouse nodes are the types of federal and state organizations you would expect to undertake this activity. But there are several unique organizations as well, including the Global Environmental Information Locator Service and the Sabine River Authority of Texas, indicating that the metadata standard is catching on everywhere as a viable means to post and search for spatial data.


ISO Metadata Standard Goes to Committee Draft

The International Standards Organization (ISO) Metadata Standard has been approved as a Committee Draft by the ISO Technical Committee 211. Within the United States, the American National Standards Organization (ANSI) sets policy on review of ISO standards, and FGDC has received their permission to conduct a more open than usual review of the Committee Draft ISO Metadata Standard this spring. You can help the FGDC establish a position on the proposed ISO Metadata Standard by registering with the FGDC to receive a printed copy of the ISO Metadata Standard. Copies of the draft will be made available only for the purposes of review and comment. The registration process will be announced in the FGDC web page and on electronic list services.

The ISO Metadata Standard has been in development since 1996. FGDC staff, committee members, and partners have been actively participating in this effort to ensure compatibility between the ISO standard and the FGDC's Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata, Version 2. 0. This will protect the significant investment the geospatial data community has already made in existing metadata records.

Version 2.0 of the FGDC Metadata Standard

Work is continuing on Version 2.0 of the Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata (CSDGM). Version 2.0 clarifies some metadata production rules and allows metadata profiles, user-defined metadata extensions, and metadata tags. Last summer the draft CSDGM Version 2.0 was publicly reviewed and a total of 76 comments were received. The comments have been adjudicated and the standard is proceeding forward for FGDC approval. Version 2.0 of the CSDGM matches very closely the proposed ISO Metadata standard discussed above. It is expected that Version 2.0 will be put forward as an FGDC profile to the ISO Metadata Standard when that standard becomes final.

FGDC Working Groups

Communication and Education Working Group Forming - Participants Sought

Ever had a good idea about how to encourage people to work together and share data? Consider joining a new communication and education working group, sponsored by the FGDC. This working group is seeking members from federal agencies, the business community, state, local and tribal governments, academia and the non-profit sector.

The working group will develop and implement creative ideas to spread the word about the NSDI to many audiences. Ideas might include developing workshops for federal agencies, briefings for members of Congress, handbooks for state and local governments or educational materials for data users and schools - all potential ideas will be considered.

The group will begin meeting this spring to develop an action plan. Meetings will be held in the Washington, D.C. area with teleconferencing to other areas of the country. If you are interested in participating, please contact Barbara Poore at the FGDC Secretariat, 703-648-5971;

Other Organizations

Highly Successful 1998 Kansas GIS EXPO Focuses On Data Sharing

The 1998 Kansas GIS EXPO took place February 12 at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka, KS. The theme for the 1998 EXPO was "promoting partnerships for GIS data sharing and coordination." More than three hundred people from across the state attended the EXPO.

Meetings and educational sessions held during the EXPO included a GIS policy board town meeting, and sessions on NSDI framework partnerships, GIS data standards, fundamentals of GIS, local and regional best practices, and cadastral mapping and digital orthoimagery. The NSGIC metadata video was available for viewing throughout the day and staff from the Policy Board's Data Access and support center showed off their NSDI clearinghouse web site.

Sponsors of the event included the Kansas GIS Policy Board, the Kansas State Historical Society, the Kansas Association of Mappers, the MidAmerica GIS Consortium and the FGDC. If your university has a data sharing event you would like to report on or publicize, please send information to

FGDC Staff

FGDC Staff Changes

Michael Domaratz, who worked for the FGDC since its inception in 1990, has moved to the USGS's National Mapping Program. At FGDC, Mike was executive secretary, then participated in the development of the metadata standard and most recently, concentrated on the implementation of a framework of data for the NSDI. Mike came to the FGDC from the USGS where he started as a cartographer in 1978. In his new position with the National Mapping Program, Mike will develop partnership strategies for data production.

Mike is a leader in the development of the NSDI, and an inspiration to his colleagues and friends. We will miss him, and wish him well in his new position. Responsibility for framework activities are currently being shared by the FGDC secretariat, pending the appointment of a new framework program head. For more information on the framework, contact the FGDC secretariat at the address on the front inside page of this newsletter.

Denise Perreca joined the FGDC secretariat in 1995 after a career in standards development at the USGS's National Mapping Program. As the standards coordinator for the FGDC secretariat and executive secretary of the standards working group, Denise developed a more structured standards program to effectively track and report the standards development efforts of the FGDC subcommittees and working groups. Denise also was active with national and international standards bodies.

Denise accepted a position with the USGS's National Mapping Program to work with the Civil Applications Committee, an interagency committee chaired by the USGS, which coordinates the acquisition and use of classified imagery by federal civil agencies. Denise contributed energy, enthusiasm and new ideas to the FGDC during her tenure. We know she will continue to do so in her new position. Frank Beck from the U.S. Geological Survey is now coordinating standards activities for the FGDC. He can be reached at 703-648-4573.

Last Updated: Jan 17, 2006 12:45 PM
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