USGS to replace CIO with GIO

In what it says represents an increased departmentwide emphasis on coordinating - instead of collecting - geographical data, the U.S. Geological Survey plans to hire the first-ever geographic information officer, a senior executive job that will replace the agency's position of chief information officer.

Barbara Ryan, USGS' associate director for operations, said the agency has done a good job of mapping the world. But now, she said, "we need to start integrating these [maps]."

The GIO will be responsible for pulling together the sprawling catalog of disparate maps into an organized system that will give USGS customers quick access to the volumes of data.

USGS hopes to provide reams of information to anyone who visits the agency, either in person or through the Internet, points to a piece of land on a map and says, "Tell me everything you know about this point on the Earth's surface," Ryan said.

The GIO position will be similar to the relatively new chief knowledge officer position that some federal agencies, such as the General Services Administration, have begun to create. Both positions require attention to the nuts and bolts of information technology, which is the emphasis of the chief information officer's job, but the GIO and CKO positions also demand a more broad approach to defining, structuring and disseminating information within agencies.

Distinct From CIO, CKO

The GIO will have to be extremely knowledgeable about geographic data and mapping. The position demands a geographic "visionary," Ryan said - a quality that is of much less importance to CKOs.

The GIO will lead USGS' commitment to organizing and easily disseminating geographic data, she said. Making information easier to access is part of USGS' vision for the agency - a plan it refers to as "gateway to the Earth."

In addition, Ryan said USGS plans to add to its map database information collected from other federal, state and local agencies, such as soil data, water-quality data and health statistics, such as cancer rates.

"Many of us believe that it is the future of the agency, so we want to have another century of service to the taxpayers of this country," she said. "We've been talking about it for three or four years. We now are starting to marshal some of the resources of the organization to have it realized. But the capstone is to put one person in charge of taking it to fruition."

The GIO position "certainly sounds like the overall approach agencies should be taking, in terms of dissemination" of information, said Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst with the advocacy group Center for Democracy and Technology. "There are a lot of people out there who say USGS has a lot of information that is not available," he said. "If this moves forward, I think this would be a good sign for the state of access in the federal government." The GIO would work out of USGS' headquarters in Reston, Va., and would be paid a salary ranging from $110,351 to $125,900. Applications are being accepted until July 7. Ryan said the agency hopes to have a GIO in place by October.

Ryan, who acts as the agency's chief financial officer, also has been serving as CIO for about three years. She will drop her CIO duties when the agency hires the new executive, she said.

Jack Dangermond, president of Redlands, Calif.-based Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc., the largest vendor of geographic information system software, said the GIO position is an "important ingredient in the evolution of GIS technology and its role within government agencies or within organizations."

Dangermond said mapping is increasingly important to governments, but many agencies are far from visionary when it comes to structuring their mapping data.

The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, "spends hundreds of millions of dollars managing...spatial data" but does not have anybody in charge who understands the nuances of spatial data, he said. The Internal Revenue Service spends billions of dollars collecting enormous volumes of information, but "they need somebody at an executive level who really knows the data," he said.


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