House committee passes remote sensing bill

Remote Sensing Applications Act

The House Science Committee on Wednesday passed a bill that would authorize $75 million over the next five years for a grants program for state, local and regional use of remote sensing technology.

The Remote Sensing Applications Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), is intended to expand the satellite mapping and monitoring technologies beyond their primary users: the scientific and national security communities. Those same technologies, when tied with commercial geospatial information systems, can be used to address many local needs, such as land use planning, coastal zone management and disaster monitoring.

The bill "will help bridge the gap between established and emerging technology solutions, and the problems and challenges we face regarding growth management, homeland security, forest fire management and other issues," Udall said during the committee markup.

In order to achieve this enhancement, the bill establishes a grants program and authorizes $15 million for every year from fiscal 2004 through fiscal 2008. That money is to be used for pilot projects in several different areas, particularly those that integrate multiple sources of geospatial information.

NASA's administrator will establish an advisory committee to oversee the grants program and will submit a report to congress by December 2007 evaluating the effectiveness of the program.

Under an amendment from Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), NASA officials will also examine how remote sensing technologies can help all government agencies fight forest fires. NASA used several remote sensing programs to help fight the wildfires that burned millions of acres in 11 states last summer, but the General Accounting Office cited remote sensing and other geospatial technologies in its September 2003 report on the flaws in federal fire management.

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