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New Podcast Explores Role of GIS in Government


In a new collaboration, NSGIC and StateScoop have launched GIS Addressed to feature the perspectives of state government GIS experts on key issues. The series connects the dots between how geographic information systems work, why they are important, and how they fit into government technology agency operations and initiatives.

"Geographic information systems have been a part of the fabric of government for decades. Now, in an era of increased focus on the centralization of technology and on information technology agencies within state and local government, a new day is here for GIS. And it could completely change how technology, data, mapping and more function in government," says Associate Publisher and Director of Strategic Initiatives at StateScoop, Jake Williams.

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Kim Cloud Receives Delaware Award for Excellence and Commitment in State Service

Major kudos to NSGIC member Kim Cloud, who received the Delaware Award for Excellence and Commitment in State Service for her work with geographic information systems (GIS) at the Delaware Governor’s Awards Ceremony on May 7, 2018. The award is a statewide recognition given to five State of Delaware employees, or groups of employees, who exemplify the highest standards of excellence and commitment in state service.

kim cloud geospatial service award delawareThe Department of Technology and Information (DTI) nominated Kim Cloud for the Delaware Award for Excellence and Commitment in State Service because of her outstanding state service and ongoing commitment to DTI. Kim has worked at DTI since July 19, 2004, and has spent her tenure as a software engineer for the Application Delivery team. Kim’s passion is working with geospatial data (location-based data) and GIS software and tools, i.e. FirstMap, which is a GIS solution that provides a centralized repository and enables users to maintain and analyze spatial data.

Kim’s dedication to GIS excellence in the state is not limited to her work at DTI. She received her Geographic Information Systems Professional Certification from the GIS Certification Institute in December 2011 and is a member of the Delaware Geographic Data Committee and the National States Geographic Information Council. Additionally, Kim is an adjunct faculty member at Wilmington University and teaches an Applied Geographic Systems course.

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Value of a GIO

Having spent a dozen years in the role of state GIO, I have thought a lot about the importance of that work. We in government GIS often talk in terms like “coordination,” and certainly coordination and governance is the core of what a GIO does. But why is it so much more important in GIS than in other subdisciplines of IT? The rest of the data world is catching on, with the (fairly recent) advent of chief data officers. But we in GIS have been talking about and working on those issues for as long as I’ve been in the field.

What’s so special about spatial? I think it comes down to a simple fact. The great majority of the financial investment required to get a GIS initiative to the finish line goes into data that is not specific to the project. That’s really not true in other data-intensive disciplines. It was especially true in the early days, but foundational data continues to be a substantial investment. The data that it takes to make a plain old base map adds up to a big cost. And everybody doing GIS needs that same base map data. So it has always been obvious to anyone without unlimited funds that they’re better off sharing that cost. And that only happens through coordination.


We probably could do a better job selling the importance of that concept outside of the GIS world. And the term that rings the right bells is cost avoidance. GIS coordination saves money, and lots of it, by preventing duplication of efforts. In the absence of GIS coordination, everyone who needs the foundational data would either build it themselves or buy it from a commercial source. That could mean the quality of the data might be inferior and it would certainly be more costly. The return on investment for collaborative GIS is exponential.

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Federal Agencies Support State Lidar Plans in “3DEP for the Nation” Project

NSGIC’s participation in the recent USGS 3DEP Working Group meeting gave us a chance to connect with NRCS, USGS, FEMA, NOAA, USFWS, USACE, USDA FS, and other federal agencies to discuss a strategy for completing national lidar coverage by 2023. (Acronyms translated below.) Coordination with and within US states and territories is a key component of this strategy and NSGIC, with a grant from USGS, is taking the lead on that coordination.

The meeting discussion included the benefits of interagency cooperation and methods for leveraging federal and state resources toward the efficient and effective capture of lidar. Coordination issues of concern included variations in:

  • Mission specific needs, for example, leaf on/off
  • Quality level
  • Budget schedules
  • Geographic units of capture and delivery
  • Centralized vs decentralized agency planning structures

The agencies discussed the value of state plans to provide information about priorities for lidar acquisition and to identify key stakeholders. More importantly, they recognized the planning efforts as a means for states to self-organize with regard to lidar; to establish a community and process that can vet stakeholder lidar data acquisition needs, outline schedules and budgets, and identify and solicit funding. The creation of a state plan template was seen as a means to construct the information in a manner that could support:

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Support for Geospatial Data Act More Critical Than Ever

In the last Congress - the 114th - some 9,600 bills were introduced. Less than 4% of them were signed into law. These are daunting numbers when you are pushing for a piece of legislation that you think is important enough to make it to the finish line. NSGIC has encouraged members of our community to support the Geospatial Data Act (S.2128 and H.R.4395) from the start, but that support has never been as critical as it is right now.

On a conference call with other member of the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO) this week, there was significant discussion about some of the issues standing in the way of unanimous support. Several organizations (NSGIC included) have been working to develop language palatable to associations with vastly different memberships. Folks in the open data/open government community have expressed concern about language around proprietary or licensed data being available on the GeoPlatform. Still others are caught up in a desire to include language related to licensure and procurement. Neither of these issues is appropriate to try to resolve in this bill. It should be noted, however, that the Geospatial Data Act is fundamentally an open data bill.

The irony is that without exception (to my knowledge, anyway), the geospatial community can agree that what the Geospatial Data Act is trying to accomplish is a good thing. The legislation codifies existing executive orders and other guidance documents that direct the work of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), the body that promotes national coordination in developing, using, sharing and disseminating geospatial data. It gives the FGDC the authority to make federal agencies follow some existing common sense rules and provides Congressional oversight over the geospatial activities of FGDC members and other agencies. It provides a great deal more clout to input developed by the multi-sector membership of FGDC’s National Geospatial Advisory Committee. And very importantly to NSGIC, it requires federal agencies to coordinate and work in partnership with other federal agencies, agencies of state, tribal, and local governments, institutions of higher education, and the private sector with the collective goal of achieving a robust national spatial data infrastructure.

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Midyear Meeting Takeaways for the Geo-Enabled Elections Project

NSGIC's Midyear Meeting - held last month in Salt Lake City - was an extremely productive time for the Geo-Enabled Elections project. Our steering group met in person for the first time, we held a four-hour workshop for conference participants, including state and federal government representatives, sponsors and other partners, and we ended the week with a well-attended plenary session.

Workshop Outcomes

Steering Group Workshop

The 13 members of the steering group met for a pre-conference workshop and identified a short list of best-practice areas to position a state for geo-enabling their elections system. These initial items are:
  • Statewide precinct layer with an associated maintenance process
  • Current statewide address info
  • Implementation options that give local control for locating address data
  • Standardization of terminology
  • System or process where GIS technologies and data are locally sourced and rolled up to the state
  • Contextual map data (for example, current aerial photography)

General Workshop

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NSGIC Hiring Membership & Meetings Coordinator

Come work for NSGIC! We are hiring a new Membership & Meetings Coordinator who will focus on the areas of membership, events management and administration. Familiarity with the geospatial community and association experience are especially helpful. View the job posting for more information and to submit your resume.

Enhancing the Arizona Address Data Management Ecosystem: Midyear Meeting Presentation Highlight

With our Midyear Meeting fast approaching, we wanted to slow down and take a moment to highlight some of the presentations and panels that we are looking forward to. This week we are highlighting a presentation titled “Enhancing the Arizona Address Data Management Ecosystem," presented by Jenna Straface, Gene Trobia, Bo Guo, and Howard Ward on Tuesday, February 27. Read Jenna's presentation description below for a preview of the discussion content:

As one of the two original pilot states for the National Address Database (NAD) project, Arizona continues to build a statewide address management ecosystem. Key success factors include support of the Arizona Geographic Information Council (AGIC) and the Arizona State Land Department (ASLD), active state and local government collaboration, strategic public and private partnerships, participation in NSGIC's Address & Transportation Committee’s identification of national guidelines and best practices, and the adoption of new technology to improve data workflows and validate authoritative addresses.

The presenters will provide a brief overview of the Arizona Address Management Ecosystem and discuss several of its key components:

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GIS in Computer Science Education: Midyear Meeting Panel Highlight

With our Midyear Meeting fast approaching, we wanted to slow down and take a moment to highlight some of the presentations and panels that we are looking forward to. The first panel we are highlighting is titled “GIS in Computer Science Education” and will be presented by Karen Rogers (WY) on Thursday, March 1. Read Karen’s statement below for a preview of the discussion content:

I was asked to be on the Computer Science Education Task Force in Wyoming, an effort led by the Department of Education. This diverse group has been meeting since September of 2017 to formulate strategies and ideas for integrating computer science (CS) in the classroom, as well as encouraging elected officials to pass legislation to formally acknowledge the importance of CS being taught to all grades in all schools.

Part of the discussion has centered on teaching computational thinking and the foundation of CS starting in elementary school so that all students have a basic fluency in CS by the time they enter middle school. From there, similar to electives like band or art, students can expand their learning and literacy in the subject and begin to specialize in the areas they find most interesting.

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Geo-Enabled Election Project Gathers Momentum

When I joined the NSGIC staff a month ago as the geospatial programs manager, I learned very quickly that NSGIC is all about collaboration. This was great news to me because my focus in the next two years will be on the Geo-Enhanced Elections project, and it’s going to require a lot of collaboration!

GIS is relatively new to state elections implementations, though we are aware of several successful state implementations. When complete, a full GIS integration with a state election management system creates a map-based model of all the geographic features that interact in the election process and its results: district, precinct and ballot area boundaries; voter residence locations; polling places and drop-off locations; and address-based presentation of elected officials. The GIS digital model can significantly enhance accuracy, transparency, and efficiency of our representative government.

The Geo-Enabled Elections project fits within NSGIC’s “sweet spot” of working together to advance valuable state GIS capabilities through coordination, collaboration, communication and subject matter expertise support.

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Nobel Prize winner George Stigler said “a transition period is a period between two transition periods.” After almost 17 years with Utah’s Automated Geographic Reference Center (AGRC), five of them as director, I am about to transition into a new role with a new organization.

Next week, I’ll hand over my key card to the Utah AGRC office, take a two week break, and then head down the street to the Wasatch Front Regional Council, the metropolitan planning organization for the Salt Lake - Ogden metro area. My new job is leading WFRC's section of GIS, data science and transportation modeling staff, in supporting mid- and long-term planning for infrastructure projects, transit, economic development, land use and air quality.

This change is bittersweet, for sure, for many reasons - I am leaving a job that I’ve loved and found fulfilling, with an outstanding team and colleagues across state and local government - and also because I will be passing along Utah's NSGIC State Rep torch (a la Minecraft) that has connected me to so much expertise and important personal and professional connections.

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NSGIC Welcomes New Staff Members

NSGIC recently announced the addition of two new staff members to the team: Bronwyn Walls as Communications Coordinator and Jamie Chesser as Geospatial Programs Manager.

bronwyn headshot

Bronwyn Walls - Communications Coordinator

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Mapping the Last Frontier: NOAA Award to Assist Alaska's Rural Coastal Communities

Alaska was recently selected to receive a 2018 - 2020 Digital Coast Fellowship. This award will provide long-term benefits for Alaskans who reside in coast communities, 80 percent of whom are vulnerable to extreme weather events and storm flooding.

The project - titled Bringing Alaska Coastal Communities Online to the Digital Coast: Coastal Flood Mapping for Rural Alaska - will build upon existing data, online mapping tools and partnerships to assist Alaska in responding to coastal flood hazards. This includes efforts to:

  • Develop a coastal flood forecast and catalog map tool

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GIS Day Marks Reintroduction of Geospatial Data Act

This afternoon, the Geospatial Data Act (GDA) was introduced in the Senate by Senators Hatch (R-UT), Warner (D-VA), Heller (R-NV), Wyden (OR), Boozman (R-AR) and Klobuchar (D-MN) as S.2128 and in the House by Representatives Westerman (R-AR) and Moulton (D-MA) as H.R.4395. NSGIC has supported the GDA in a few different forms, it having been introduced in a previous Congress, as well as having undergone revisions since its last introduction. It has retained its critical core – developing a national spatial data infrastructure (NSDI) that will significantly improve government services for citizens across the country.

Working with partner organizations, we delivered a GDA support letter that included other well-respected national organizations and geospatial technology and services companies. It is the strongest showing of support for the GDA that has ever been garnered. I had the opportunity to join a few NSGIC colleagues – Cy Smith (OR), Shelby Johnson (AR), Dan Ross (MN) and our executive director, Molly Schar – for a Capitol Hill GIS Day reception we co-hosted with AAG and Esri. It was an excellent opportunity to speak with lawmakers and their staff members about why the GDA is so important, and it also gave us a chance to talk with the other nonprofit and corporate representatives in the room who are our partners in supporting this legislation. With transparent and coordinated advocacy efforts, we can leverage the momentum building in the geospatial community for this bipartisan, “good government” bill.

As I said in my remarks during the reception this afternoon, developing a national spatial data infrastructure is a concept that we have struggled with for the past 24 years – since the signing of Executive Order 12906 in 1993. The NSDI, as a concept, has mostly been an federal interagency pursuit, with little comparatively little consideration to harnessing the significant geospatial capabilities that state, tribe, regional or local governments, and the commercial sector have developed in the past two decades. The GDA codifies a strong multi-sector governance structure for NSDI strategy and activities, and it mandates Congressional oversight of federal geospatial expenditures. There are two specific provisions of this bill that NSGIC believes will be difference makers toward the achievement of a fully functional, and truly 'national' spatial data infrastructure.

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Is the Future of NAIP Aerial Photography in Trouble?

Potential changes to the USDA's NAIP one-meter color aerial photography program were a hot topic of discussion at today's FGDC Coordination Group meeting.

In response to reduced funding, USDA is currently reevaluating the efficacy of the NAIP program. Reduced funding for NAIP is due to agency budget cuts, partially met commitments by federal partner agencies outside of USDA, and later-than-desired transfers of partner funding that require USDA to take on extra financial risk.

Accordingly, the NAIP acquisition contract renewals will be for one year only in 2018 and the NAIP flights are slated to move back to a three-year cycle. Notably, USDA is considering subscribing to a commercial imagery subscription starting as early as 2019, and has determined that a USDA-only COTS license would meet USDA needs while cutting their internal acquisition costs by 50% and improving resolution by 2x. USDA also stated that it was clear that it would only take a few agencies acquiring their own exclusive commercial imagery subscriptions before those costs exceeded the overall cost of NAIP.

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USGS 3DEP Lidar Indexing for Continental US

Last month, the USGS released a 2 page fact sheet outlining their plans to align their 3DEP Lidar program with a standardized national grid. The proposed grid would guide the shape of proposed 3DEP grant projects (optional for 2018 but required in 2019) and, presumably, the distribution files for 3DEP data.

This new component of the 3DEP program has been encouraged by NSGIC members in recent years. The grid may prove useful as a framework for negotiating coverage and costs between adjacent project/interest areas. It is also likely the grid will help USGS facilitate 'infill' between larger gaps found between proposed projects and/or existing data.

Also of note, the US National Grid system, based on the military reference system, was given consideration but in the end was not selected. The logic seems solid on this for the reasons USGS cites, although it does mean that most projects will no longer have a true North-South orientation. (Chalk this up in the 'if no one's perfectly satisfied, you might have a good solution' category).

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NSGIC Launches "Geo-Enabled Elections" Project to Enhance Elections Management with Geospatial Data & Technology

Today, the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) announced a two-year project dubbed “Geo-Enbled Elections” Project to boost state-led efforts to standardize the application of geographic information systems (GIS) to support elections management and engagement between office holders and their constituents. These essential upgrades will benefit voters by increasing political boundary precision—so they know with certainty who represents them and what will be on their ballots each election.

The Geo-Enabled Elections Project will compile and promote best practices for the use of GIS to develop and sustain a map-based digital database to support state election offices that contains:

  • State, municipal, and local service district boundaries
  • Voting precinct boundaries, precinct assignments, and polling places
  • Constituent service areas to connect residents to elected officials, government services, public notices, and other location specific information

“The information systems behind our elections process can benefit greatly from integrating precise, authoritative geographic data. This has never been more important, as it will enhance efficiency and integrity while laying the groundwork to better connect constituents with their representatives and available government services” said NSGIC Executive Director Molly Schar. “In partnership with the bipartisan Democracy Fund Voice, we will be working to dramatically enhance the quality, efficiency, and collective trust in election systems in states across the country.”

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Happy Ada Lovelace Day - Celebrating Women in STEM

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

I first became aware of this celebration three years ago by happenstance when a friend of mine simply asked, "Are you doing anything special on Ada Lovelace Day?" I wasn't - I had no idea who Ada Lovelace was and what Ada Lovelace Day was about. Wikipedia quickly filled in the blanks.

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (December 10, 1815 - November 27, 1852) was the only child of the poet Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella Byron. Byron separated from his wife a month after Ada was born and left England forever four months later. Ada's mother remained bitter at Lord Byron and promoted Ada's interest in mathematics and logic in an effort to prevent her from following in her father’s footsteps.

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NSGIC 2017 Annual in Review

In case you missed the NSGIC 2017 Annual Conference, here are the highlights from my perspective. It was phenomenal (and exhausting at the same time) once again, and I thank all those who contributed their time and hard work to make it happen. (Members can log in to explore notes and presentation slides in the archives.)

Leadership Development Workshop

The primary takeaway from the Leadership Workshop on Monday is the triad ‘Mentor - Coach - Champion’. See an up and coming talent? Offer to mentor them. New to your career and looking for insights and help? Ask a trusted colleague to mentor you. Witness a meeting or conversation that could have gone better? Find a way to offer advice to coach and improve. Impressed with a person, product or outcome? Speak up and be their champion. However you choose to do it, don’t be afraid to step up and be a leader. That can take shape in a variety of ways and forms, so pick up your ball and run with it.>

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GWU Counting for Dollars, Census-Informed Federal Program Funds

At least a couple times a year, state GIS offices are apt to encounter some mention of the importance of the Census Bureau having the best possible GIS roads and address data from their state, as the Bureau prepares for its next decennial census count.

Click to open an interactive map of the Counting for Dollars dataThe argument goes like this...

  1. Better road and address data gives a state the best chance for the Bureau achieving a full count of its residents, and
  2. On a per capita basis, per year, billions of dollars in federal program funding are determined by formulas that use state population and other census-derived demographic data, so,
  3. There is a bit of a zero-sum-game at work, the fuller your state’s count of residents, the more of its rightful, equitable share will be received from these programs.

Last month, Professor Andrew Reamer of the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy, published an analysis of 16 large federal programs that utilize Census-derived datasets to set state funding levels, with details on the methodology used, and (a drum roll please), specific data for each program and state. In the study, titled Counting for Dollars 2020: The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds, the per capita totals across the 16 programs that were examined were certainly not linear with respect to population, ranging from a high of $4,583 (DC) to a low of $1,086 (UT, what?!) with a national average of $1,838 (US).

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