Mapping technology threatens USGS jobs

Fewer mapmakers needed as agency prepares a competitive sourcing bid

The U.S. Geological Survey, which issues most official maps, is considering outsourcing or eliminating most of its major mapping technology operations because commercial remote-sensing products and other advanced technologies have replaced field surveyors.

Federal cartographic specialists say they will not easily find new jobs when their positions are consolidated.

The functions of 400 federal employees at five locations will either be eliminated or transferred to an operations center in Colorado. Employees there will provide the bulk of USGS' digital mapping service operations.

In recent years, USGS has transformed its role from mapmaker to map distributor now that federal agencies and state, industry and nongovernmental organizations generate an increasing amount of geospatial data. A public/private competition could soon further redefine USGS' role in providing geographical information services.

The public/private contest, known as competitive sourcing, will be conducted under the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76 guidelines, with federal employees and companies bidding for the work.

USGS spokeswoman Denver Makle said no work has been outsourced yet. "All we are doing at this point is studying our organization and looking at how we can get a more efficient organization based on what our customers' needs are [and] on changes in technology," she said.

Employees will generate map graphics, maintain an archive of print maps and integrate geospatial data at a new facility, the National Geospatial Technical Operations Center. They will assist all production activities and provide technical services associated with the Federal Geographic Data Committee, Geospatial One-Stop and the National Map.

Some of the center's responsibilities will include researching and developing new mapping software and applications.

USGS officials expect to release a solicitation for open bidding in January 2006 and award a contract next September.

Currently, geospatial operations are located in Reston, Va.; Rolla, Mo.; Lakewood, Colo.; Menlo Park, Calif.; and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Those five mapping centers were established many years ago to support manual cartography methods. Now, the government demands fast access to digital resources.

For example, during Hurricane Katrina, USGS deployed geographic information systems to plot coordinates of flood victims' homes. As soon as the maps came off the printer, helicopter pilots grabbed them and ran to their choppers. They rescued thousands of people, including 19 teachers trapped for days on the roof of Chalmette High School in Louisiana.

Contracting experts say a re-evaluation of the government's role in mapmaking is long overdue.

Carl DeMaio, president and founder of the Performance Institute, a management think tank, said the announcement comes after many years of industry officials pressing the government to look at geospatial operations at USGS. DeMaio said federal officials need to ask whether those activities duplicate what other agencies, states and companies are doing.

DeMaio noted that A-76 competitions do not have predetermined outcomes. USGS might find that the solution is restructuring or contracting with states instead of outsourcing to industry, he said.

Whatever happens, "I think this competition will help USGS become more efficient," he added.

USGS union leaders say they fear that workforce reductions are coming. Sandra Hoyle, a USGS cartographic technician and acting president of the new local union in Denver, said the center where she works will lose 100 employees if an outside entity wins.

"As a cartographic technician and almost 50 years old, there's not a chance I will find another job," she said. "Most of us are 45, 50 years old with 25 years of service. We aren't finding jobs."


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USGS to centralize mapping and IT operations

A U.S. Geological Survey center will manage services that 400 employees in five facilities now deliver. Employees in the new National Geospatial Technical Operations Center at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colo., will oversee the following operations:

  • Information technology infrastructure.
  • Contracts for multipurpose geospatial data products and services.
  • Development of geospatial standards and data models.
  • Integration of geospatial data systems and technical support for the geospatial enterprise architecture.

-- Aliya Sternstein

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