Appropriations bill could save mapping center

The U.S. Geological Survey will simultaneously proceed with a consolidation that would shut down several mapping centers and establish an alternate plan, should Congress approve a House appropriations bill that would keep open a site in Rolla, Mo., which is scheduled to close.

Currently, USGS is conducting an A-76 jobs competition to determine whether federal or private-sector employees will operate a new mapping center in Lakewood, Colo. Agency officials decided to open the federal jobs to outside competition despite congressional criticism of how USGS chose Colorado as the new center’s location.

The consolidation could put 250 USGS employees out of work. Whether the center’s operations are outsourced or handled by federal employees, the new National Geospatial Technical Operations Center will eliminate all employee positions in each of USGS’ four regional centers, agency officials said. Those centers are in Reston, Va.; Rolla; Menlo Park, Calif.; and Lakewood. Officials estimate that the consolidated center will require only 100 to 150 employees instead of the nearly 400 who operated the four regional centers during the past fiscal year.

Last fall, USGS’ parent agency, the Interior Department, suspended the jobs competition because of a dispute over the site’s selection. At Congress’ request, Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney began an investigation into the process that USGS used in choosing the Colorado site.

Devaney issued a memo in February stating that his office had uncovered no misconduct. But he added that USGS officials were not completely open in explaining how they came to their decision.

In reaction to the IG’s findings, the House report on the fiscal 2007 appropriations for Interior, environment, and related agencies states that the Rolla mapping center should receive funding to remain open.

“The Committee is of the belief that the [mapping center] located in Rolla, Missouri, provides important data for mapping and responding to disasters and emergencies. . .[and] provides necessary overflow capability to keep USGS data available over the internet,” the report states. “Provided the important purposes the [mapping center] in Rolla, Missouri serves, and the subjective nature of the U.S. Geological Survey's decision to close and consolidate the work being performed at [the mapping center], the Committee appropriates sufficient funds under to this Act to continue the function, activities, operations, and archives . . . and prohibits Federal funds from being used to carry out the closure and consolidation of the Rolla [mapping center].”

Today, USGS officials said the House’s bill has not affected the competition’s progress, but the agency is considering all its options, should the proposal to keep the site in Rolla become law.

Barbara Wainman, director of USGS’ Office of Communications and Outreach, said, “We are not at a point in the process where this is problematic. Obviously, we will be evaluating our plans and schedules to figure out what to do in the event it does pass.”

The draft solicitation for the Colorado work is scheduled to be issued this month, followed by a final solicitation in June. USGS officials anticipate awarding a contract to run the center by early February 2007.

“Right now, we’re still on track but that could change,” Wainman said. “Obviously if this becomes law, we will follow it.”

USGS publishes most official U.S. maps. In recent years, the agency has shifted its activities from mapmaking to distribution. Other federal agencies and state, industry and nongovernmental organizations now produce most of the geospatial data USGS uses. The Defense Department’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency also provides imagery, imagery intelligence and geospatial information in support of national security objectives.

Lawmakers opposed to the agency’s plan have questioned how USGS will continue to function as a mapping agency after its mapping operations shrink. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), who requested the IG investigation, said her chief concern is that USGS does not seem prepared to fully continue its mapping functions after operations cease at the Rolla location.

Emerson said some of those functions support vital preparedness and response plans for a potential earthquake along the New Madrid Fault Zone, which extends through several states including Missouri. The Homeland Security Department has designated the zone its No. 2 priority for domestic natural disaster preparedness.

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