New Mexico Data 'Framework' Holds Tips for National GIS System

The U.S. Geological Survey's Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) is about to choose a new round of state and local governments to join its Framework Demonstration Projects Program, under which local, state and federal agencies will work out data-sharing problems they might encounter in building the National Spatial Data Infrastructure.

The NSDI is a complex, intergovernmental plan to create a set of standard geographic information systems (GIS) data elements.

This year's participants can look to New Mexico for clues about what the experience as a Framework partner will hold. GIS experts from the state, which was involved in Framework for two years, said the project explored how to create a common vocabulary for data, how to absorb an overwhelming set of national standards without sacrificing existing systems and how to establish trusting relationships for sharing GIS data with neighboring governments and agencies."It was certainly a learning experience for us," said Robin Ransom, GIS coordinator for New Mexico's Dona Ana County. "It helped us to think more along the lines of regional coverage than simply about ourselves. Any of the data we create from new systems will certainly be FDGC-compliant."

As part of Framework, FGDC is providing $680,000 this year for what it calls "anchor tenant" projects to help shape the NSDI. Not only does FGDC want the funded agencies to adopt enough NSDI standards for interagency data sharing, it also wants these projects to create a trail of data exchange that others can follow. "The goal is to be able to share data for local, regional and national analysis," said David Painter, an FGDC cartographer. The New Mexico team found that the primary benefit of Framework was that it helped establish a common data vocabulary between agencies.

"For those who develop and use data, I see this more as a great benefit to provide a common language between us all," said Gar Clarke, GIS manager for the city of Santa Fe. "What's really cool about Framework is that it helps to organize a very confusing technology."

On the other hand, the New Mexico team did not always agree with how FGDC set up its data elements: The team wanted Framework standardization to concentrate more on base mapping rather than cadastral information and governmental units. In the end, the New Mexico Technical Committee decided to recommend that interagency data sharing focus on five of Framework's seven data definitions-ones that reflect physical features that do not change. Those include geodetic control, orthoimagery, elevation, transportation and in some cases, hydrology. This also meant New Mexico could share data from existing systems rather than build new ones to comply with all of Framework's specifications.Meanwhile, the state's administrative team worked on an agreement that would allow agencies to participate in intergovernmental data sharing and still meet legal and financial requirements. "Everyone's got different approval [policies]," said Amy Budge, manager of clearinghouse services at the Earth Data Analysis Center at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. "Then there were questions such as: Who's going to house this stuff? Who's going to do the vertical integration?"

The administrative team approached more than 25 offices in the state that use GIS systems. They pointed out the costs and benefits of data sharing and the improvements of statewide systems, such as 911. "Everyone agreed it was a good idea, so we developed a memorandum of agreement and are [now going] to the state legislature to get them to back the MOA with more money," Budge said. "We have to get them to agree that in the long run, having several independent GIS systems that are not compatible with their neighbors isn't best for us."

While the agreements that New Mexico developed are specific to that state, its recommendations and discoveries remain of interest to any regional Framework participants, according to the state's participants. "We're out of the GIS dark ages and into spatial light," Clarke said.

The project's results are available on the World Wide Web at rgis.unm.edu.

Julie Bort is a free-lance writer and the author of Building an Extranet (John Wiley & Sons).

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