The road less traveled

One unofficial responsibility Karen Siderelis has at the U.S. Geological Survey is articulating an answer to those who inevitably ask, "So what's with the "G'?"

"That is a question I get asked very often," said Siderelis, USGS' GIO, or geographic information officer. "There's always the question, even inside USGS, of "What is GIO?' and "Why?'"

For Siderelis, who is the first person to hold that title at USGS — and as far as she knows, the first in government—the answer to the "why" is pretty simple: At USGS, it's as much about the data as the information technology supporting it.

"In USGS, where the mission is so focused on science and information there's almost more of a focus on the content of the information itself [than] on the technologies that underpin it," she said. So while she has the same IT management and planning responsibilities as her chief information officer counterparts under the Clinger-Cohen Act, in what she calls her "CIO-plus" role, Siderelis and her team are also in charge of integrating the scientific data USGS produces, maintaining its quality and managing its distribution to other government agencies and the public.

"The way we want to scope the office is broader than looking at the technology only," Siderelis said.

USGS, an Interior Department bureau, chose to emphasize "geographic" in the new office's name because across its four major scientific disciplines (biology, geology, mapping and water), and throughout just about almost every area of life, place plays a role, said USGS Deputy Director Kathy Clement.

"If you cut through the layers, everything does have a geographic base of some magnitude, so it can be a strong organizing principle," Clement said. "There are lots of ways to organize information; geography just seems to be the most powerful one."

Seven months into the job, Siderelis has identified some key priorities, including:

* Instituting stronger IT investment and management policies.

* Advancing USGS' Gateway to the Earth concept of integrating data collected across scientific disciplines for easy access by the public.

* Developing an enterprisewide geographic information system (GIS).

"My big agenda is enterprise," Siderelis said—developing the capacity to share data seamlessly throughout the bureau. "I think that's what the expectations are for the GIO."

Siderelis, born and raised in Rome, Ga., accepted a job with the government of North Carolina, a pioneer in the use of GIS, in 1976. She stayed with the state, serving as director of its Land Resources Information Service and then its Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, until joining USGS in November.

The challenge of heading up the new GIO office was too good to pass up, Siderelis said. "I just thought, "This is a job [that] has my name on it,' and it was just the next logical step for me. It was an opportunity for growth an offer that couldn't be refused."

Siderelis' strong GIS experience and her quiet strength make her a good fit for the job, Clement said. "When she speaks, people listen. She's very petite, but when she speaks she has something to say, and it's usually meaningful and on-target. She's going to be a great leader for us."

Outside the office, Siderelis said these days she enjoys any activity — gardening, hiking or simply lounging on the weekend—that she can share with her husband, Chris, a professor at North Carolina State University.

Meanwhile, Siderelis is focusing on laying out what the GIO office should look like and how it can contribute to USGS Director Charles Groat's "one bureau, one mission, one message" philosophy.

"Those are the things that I get energized about—thinking strategically, looking at big opportunities and ways for us to work together," Siderelis said. "And the bottom line is to make a difference."


The Karen Siderelis file

Position: U.S. Geological Survey geographic information officer.

Previous job: Director of North Carolina's Center for Geographic Information

and Analysis.

Other resume highlights: Member of National Academy of Sciences' Mapping

Science Committee since 1994; board member of the National States Geographic

Information Council since 1993.

Education: Bachelor's degree in education (1973) and master's degree

in park management (1976) from the University of Georgia.

Quotation: "To work in an agency that really is purely a scientific

organization is new for me, and that's actually quite energizing."


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