port a wide variety of decisions at all levels of society. By creating an effective, efficient, and widely accessible ''information highway"—the backbone of a robust National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI)—data could be readily transported and easily integrated both horizontally (e.g., across environmental, economic, and institutional data bases) and vertically (e.g., from local to national and eventually to global levels). The NSDI could provide transparent access to myriad data bases for countless applications (e.g., facility management, real estate transactions, taxation, land-use planning, transportation, emergency services, environmental assessment and monitoring, and research). Work on these applications occurs in schools, offices, and homes nationwide. Furthermore, a robust NSDI will create new value-added services and market opportunities in emerging spatial information industries.
The National Spatial Data Infrastructure is the means to assemble geographic information that describes the arrangement and attributes of features and phenomena on the Earth. The infrastructure includes the materials, technology, and people necessary to acquire, process, store, and distribute such information to meet a wide variety of needs.
We must emphasize that a national spatial data infrastructure exists. It is an ad hoc affair because, until very recently, no one conceived of it or defined it as a coherent entity, and indeed it has not been very coherent or coordinated. It is not the task of the Mapping Science Committee (MSC) to create a national spatial data infrastructure. We want merely to point out its existence, identify its components and characteristics, assess the efficiency with which it functions to meet national needs (from local to federal), and finally make recommendations that might make it more useful, more economical, better coordinated, and robust. Several investigators have shown that investments in spatial data technologies are normally repaid by the long-term benefits and that greater efficiencies are realized. In addition, there could be a significant reduction in the cost of operation of geographic information systems (GIS) if existing data were shared, thus reducing duplication of efforts of data collection. The committee maintains that improvements in the national spatial data infrastructure are critical to the maintenance of a competitive position for the United States in an increasingly international economic arena.
Over the past decade researchers in government, private industry, and academia began to appreciate the technical and institutional difficulties in creating distributed networks of spatial data bases at all levels of government and society. Many technical problems have been solved, but most