Senators give mapping center a chance for survival

The Interior Department has postponed closing a Rolla, Mo., mapping center, which would leave many federal workers jobless, after criticism from Congress.

Interior changed plans after the Senate included a measure in the fiscal 2007 Interior appropriations bill that would allow the center to participate in an A-76 jobs competition to operate a new consolidated mapping center.

Yesterday, Sens. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.) announced that the Mid-Continent Mapping Center in Rolla would remain open under language they introduced in the appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the measure.

The Rolla center, which employs more than 130 people, will continue operating after the original Sept. 30 deadline to shut down.

Previously, the U.S. Geological Survey had been conducting a competition to determine whether federal or private-sector employees would operate a consolidated mapping center in Lakewood, Colo.

Talent, Bond and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) had disapproved of the process that USGS used in choosing Colorado as the new center’s location.

"Both the House and Senate have expressed opposition to shutting down Rolla the way we proposed," said Barbara Wainman, director of USGS’ Office of Communications and Outreach. "So the expectation is that the final law will include new directions for how to operate the Rolla center."

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. Those centers are in Reston, Va.; Rolla; Menlo Park, Calif.; and Lakewood. The consolidation could put 250 USGS employees out of work.

The committee’s report states that the Rolla and Denver sites would receive funds and support to fairly compete with the private sector.

“This is a great victory for the highly skilled employees at the mapping center in Rolla," Talent said. “We knew from the get-go that [Interior] had an agenda, and this provision stops the closure of the mapping center. It also creates a level playing field for the workers in Rolla. I know that they can compete and win if given a fair opportunity.”

The full Senate must still vote on the Talent-Bond measure. If it passes, it must be reconciled with the House bill before President Bush can sign it into law.

Last fall, Interior suspended the jobs competition because of the dispute over the site’s selection. At Congress’ request, Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney began an investigation into how USGS chose the Colorado site.

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

In reaction to the IG’s findings, last month's House report for the fiscal 2007 Interior appropriations bill 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 [USGS’] decision to close and consolidate the work being performed at [the mapping center], the committee appropriates sufficient funds under 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.

USGS officials said the A-76 process has been delayed, but the new timeline is unknown. The original award date had been January 2007.

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