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Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program 4 TOMORROW For a variety of reasons the National Mapping Division of the U.S. Geological Survey stands at a critical juncture in its existence, and recommendations as to directions to be taken in the future must take these into account. In formulating recommendations the committee has found that while it has a vision of the general configuration of the future, details are not yet clearly in focus because the transformations described in Chapter 3 are still very much under way. The excitement about the new technologies that are being developed to meet needs for spatial or geographic information has obscured the fact that the technology and an institutional infrastructure to support it are not yet fully in place. Conceptual structures are lacking, and there is only partial consensus about appropriate vocabulary. Professional affiliations and the potential to enhance fundamental understanding will undergo significant change in the future. Nevertheless, the committee believes there is guidance it can offer, and the material that follows is its attempt to provide direction for the emergent enterprise. NMD AND FORCES FOR CHANGE The NMD is at critical juncture in its existence for the following reasons: Completion of 1:24,000 Coverage Its primary task for many decades, mapping the entire country at 1:24,000 scale (1:63,360 for Alaska), is virtually complete. The momentum provided by this production orientation will decrease, and should be replaced by an alternative raison d’etre to supplement their continuing task of maintaining currency for the 57,000 1:24,000-scale maps.
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Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program Increasing Importance of Cultural Base Data The production of maps emphasizing physical over cultural features is increasingly less relevant in an economy that is dependent more on human than on physical resources. Human-induced change now rivals natural change. This information is also needed in spatially referenced form. As an Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) report, Technology and the American Economic Transition,15 puts it: Understanding changes in the structure of the U.S. economy is critical …for estimating the likely direction of the economy in the future. The dynamics of an economy heavily dependent on natural resources are likely to be very different from one primarily dependent on intellectual resources, (p. 165) And the same report notes that “one of the clearest structural trends in the U.S. economy has been the relative decline of the Natural Resource sector” (p. 170). The era of major public investment in the types of physical infrastructure for which USGS maps were traditionally found appropriate (although they had not been created explicitly to meet those non-earth-science needs) is being overtaken by an era dominated by the importance of the societal infrastructure. In the coming economic/environmental transition, an equivalent infrastructure will be an educated, informed population. Widespread Adoption of GIS Many of NMD’s traditional users are shifting from maps to GIS technology to meet their needs for spatial information. The analytical capabilities once provided by human beings, operating with maps as data, are now being provided by computers. Most of the data on which computers operate is currently coming from digitized conventional maps, but this appears to be a transition phase. Within a GIS environment, all data layers must form an integrated system registered to a common base map (see Figure 4). The NMD is responsible for many of the most important layers of a national digital GIS data base. However, other federal agencies are responsible for other layers that must use the NMD layers as a framework. All of these layers should be seamless spatial data sets; within a GIS environment the traditional map quadrangle is meaningless. More direct sources of digital data are desirable already, e.g., global positioning data and remotely sensed data, and will be mandatory in the future. When such data are not available from NMD, they are being created elsewhere, probably with custom standards, at a greater cost. Data Currency Demands Because an increasing number of NMD’s traditional users are working with computers, they are accustomed to rapid informational transactions, performed on the most current information. The committee believes that dissatisfaction with the traditionally slow pace of map revision will intensify, and substitutes will be sought and created from suppliers other than NMD, if available at acceptable cost.
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Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program Requirements for More Detail Maps are becoming an increasingly unsatisfactory product for many operational users of srdd. The primary reason for this is the inherent limitation on the amount of detail they can portray at fixed scales. NMD map scales are therefore increasingly unsatisfactory for the fine-textured, intricate urban landscapes in which most of the U.S. population lives, moves, and conducts business. Private/Public Sector Alignments Traditional concepts of what it is appropriate for public sector organizations to provide may need to be fundamentally altered to meet the needs of an economy based on increasingly complex local to global scale information flows. NMD is not the only federal institution to be confronting the possibility of a future in which relationships with the public, private sector, and other federal and international agencies are more complex. In order to realize the potential of machine processing of srdd for meeting important human needs, there must be increasing coordination among suppliers and users of the technology and the data that support it. Writing of research in computing science generally, one author makes a case for more coordination to multiply the benefits of individual effort: “Such well-defined patterns of coordination allow given agents to perform actions as a group that no one of them could perform alone.”16 The required coordination is a formidable task for any organization to confront; fortunately much of this is happening gradually, and NMD has already taken some steps to accommodate to change and to move in new directions. It also appears that there are limits to what the USGS and NMD can do to change their own courses. In order to make the altered, expanded commitments that will be essential for efficient progress, Congress, the administration, and society in general must be involved. A FUTURE FOR THE NATIONAL MAPPING DIVISION We have seen that the NMD of the past evolved primarily to meet the needs of a number of federal agencies for base maps of selected classes of features located within a rigorously controlled geodetic framework. Public funds were spent to produce a nationwide topographic map series to meet the needs these agencies had in common. Topographic maps tend to emphasize data of particular utility for natural resource management and the conduct of earth sciences. There will be a continuing need for this kind of information; however, the committee anticipates that the nature of the desired map products in both analog and digital forms will change. While the committee realizes that it has not been the stated intention of the USGS/NMD or the Department of the Interior (DOI) to meet all national
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Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program needs for geographic information at all scales; the National Mapping Program (its name notwithstanding) meets only selected classes of need at only a few specific scales. Yet, the committee believes that to be better prepared to meet the future needs of the nation, NMD must begin a process of redirecting its roles, goals, and mission to better serve not only USGS and DOI, but the cartographic enterprise as a whole. To accomplish this redirection, NMD must be conceptually restructured to better meet current and future user requirements. NMD must continue to play a leading role in coordination of mapping activities within and beyond the federal establishment. In particular, this includes work in the area of standards and the structure and operation of a national spatial data base. Also included is the need for the examination of innovative ideas for continuing and strengthening the existing work-sharing and cost-sharing programs through the implementation of a data donor program. NMD must also be sensitive to the emerging needs of the federal agencies for the operational production of special-purpose continental and global scale map products. Finally, the committee also believes that NMD must expand its research program and improve its ties with universities and public and private sector users in the interest of improving the overall qualities of our national cartographic enterprise. The committee’s recommendations, which follow, address these issues. RECOMMENDATIONS Recommendation 1: National Spatial Data Base The committee recommends that the National Mapping Division expand its role in developing the National Digital Cartographic Data Base so that its functions include management and coordination, standard setting and enforcement, data production, cataloging, and data dissemination and related services. The USGS/NMD has recognized the utility of and demand for spatially referenced digital data and is committed to converting three major printed map series (1:24,000, 1:100,000, and 1:2,000,000) to topologically structured data bases, collectively referred to as the NDCDB, by the year 2000. The primary goal is to speed the updating and production of printed maps, recognizing that as a by-product the digital data stream necessary to support the Mark II revision program will be in great demand by users outside the USGS. However, based on the information provided elsewhere in this report, it appears that there will be a significant need to reorganize NMD for it to be fully effective in meeting future user requirements. A national map series is not the functional equivalent of a NDCDB, but it is not yet completely clear just what
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Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program the digital equivalent of analog topographic map production, management, and dissemination will be. It is clear, however, that if NMD is to be a srdd supplier to the nation for general GIS needs, it must be closely involved with all aspects of private and public utilization of GIS. It might well have a leadership role in supporting and/or conducting GIS research that would provide general benefits to the economy, but could not be profitably undertaken in the private sector or handled as economically in diverse, federal agencies, with (perhaps) considerable redundant effort. Recommendation 2: Data Base Enhancement The committee recommends that the National Mapping Division increase its activities to provide a larger number of classes of spatial data to better meet national needs both within the earth science/natural resources sector and in other sectors that are dependent on spatial data. Such needs include cultural detail such as census, postal, and transportation network data, land-use/land-cover information, and others (see Figure 4). Changes in technology have made it feasible to greatly increase the quantity of geographic information that can be stored, manipulated, and used in problem solving. The introduction of GIS not only makes it possible to add features of national interest to topographic coverage, but more importantly will greatly increase the number of stored attributes that characterize each feature. It is conceivable that commercial needs for national srdd in transportation and marketing (that is, needs for census tracts, postal ZIP code data, and street labeling and block addressing) will be so significant that if the federal government does not move to create and maintain a comprehensive (continually updated) national data base of such features a consortium of firms will have to create it. No doubt it would then be proprietary, which does not seem in the best national interest from either a civilian or a military point of view, especially since its basis would be existing federal data. Recommendation 3: External Coordination Focus The committee recommends that the National Mapping Division speed the creation of the National Digital Cartographic Data Base by (1) increasing emphasis on work-sharing and cost-sharing programs, (2) developing, prototyping, testing, and implementing a digital data donor program throughout the public and private sectors, and (3) allocating adequate NMD resources to information management and user/donor coordination, and, if necessary, increasing these relative to traditional data production programs.
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Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program Implicit in this recommendation is the need for NMD to turn its attention outward to serving the map/GIS user communities in addition to its internal focus on internal map production. However, the committee believes it is in the best long-term national interest for the NDCDB to be populated as quickly as possible. Therefore, it seems useful to develop and fund the concept of a “data donor” program for NDCDB, where federally mandated standards are provided to all federal agencies with the potential for contributing to the NDCDB to ensure that srdd products generated are NDCDB-compatible. In the private sector, imaginative new data donation incentives should be welcomed if these data meet NDCDB standards for accuracy and quality of data. These would include advantageous data exchanges or data updating agreements, work-shared and cost-shared programs, or even more direct economic incentives. Such programs might well alter certain current fixed notions about the division of national mapping responsibilities between the private and public sectors and could lead to productive institutional change. The committee believes that in the future production should become a relatively less important aspect of NMD’s functioning, and user/donor community coordination and communication should become more important. Doing this might require changes in the type of staffing done by NMD. More emphasis on user requirements supplemented by changes to user/donor interaction would have significant implications for the future development of NMD. Recommendation 4: Standards Responsibility The committee recommends that the National Mapping Division continue and, if possible, expand its efforts in establishing and promulgating digital spatial data quality standards, to include standards for larger-scale data sets and maps. The need for digital forms of USGS 1:24,000-scale maps is already so great that they are being widely digitized by various mapping organizations. Some maps have been digitized repeatedly at public expense. Unfortunately, there are no standards to regulate the quality of such digital data base creation that have been generally accepted or adequately implemented. Therefore, despite the transportability of digital data, many potentially useful data bases cannot be “registered” to the NDCDB. It seems logical to continue to utilize the expertise and reputation of the USGS/NMD in setting digital data standards that would meet general user needs as effectively as National Map Accuracy Standards have met user needs in topographic maps. Moreover, the committee found from its survey a significant demand from local and regional users of srdd for large-scale mapping standards. Even though they did not favor the USGS doing the mapping at scales larger than 1:24,000, these users unanimously supported the USGS having responsibilities for estab-
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Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program lishing standards for all scales of maps and digital data. Recommendation 5: Data Base Structure and Operations The committee recommends that the National Mapping Division establish plans for and begin prototyping a national spatial data base, which would be an enhancement of the National Digital Cartographic Data Base and would be feature-oriented and accessible on-line by the year 2010, if not sooner. It would include the NDCDB with selected additional base data classes, as well as accessibility information referring users to specialized spatial data sets created outside the NDCDB program, but registered to it. It should also include provisions for systematic update of features and data layers on an operational basis subject to specific user community and federal-policy-oriented priorities. Feature- or Object-Oriented Data Structures By its very nature, a topographic map program organized by arbitrary rectangles meets only one of two possible spatial queries effectively: At a place, what exists? A map series can be manipulated only with some difficulty to answer the other basic type of spatial query: Given a feature, at what places does it exist? In other words, we can see on a map that at a set of coordinates a river exists. But finding out what area is drained by it (i.e., where is a drainage basin?) is much more difficult. Topographic maps are useful because they are application-neutral, but GIS are more popular because they have the necessary efficiency, if the digital data in them are properly structured, of producing more application-specific responses to queries using an integrated data set. It may well be that the new GIS user community does not yet fully appreciate this potential, and is restricting itself unduly by (unconsciously) reverting to the traditional map model. As a speaker at a recent GIS symposium noted,17 The use of a map archive as a source may be economically justified, but it limits the vision of the scope of an information system. As an implemented system matures, primary sources closer to the events must replace the traditional map source. In the few cases where this change has occurred, the attitudes toward information have shifted. The traditional map is no longer an adequate model for the content of the information system. Feature updating may be quite different from quadrangle updating, but revision programs must be altered to include systematic feature updates. This will create the need for the expanded use of new source material (e.g., satellite-derived image products) and more complex concepts and procedures. A
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Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program research program to deal with this challenge will be required. Among other obvious research challenges, the development of efficient methods for automatic digital feature extraction appears to rank high on a list of priorities. Problems associated with scale changes and generalization must be addressed. There is no question that feature- or object-oriented data bases will be an important user requirement to which NMD must attend. On-Line Data The need for data timeliness is a recurring theme throughout this report. But meeting national user requirements in this regard, conventional or digital, is not possible at current funding levels. As users substitute alternative data solutions, a great deal of money, much of it in the public sector, is wasted. Data storage and transmission capabilities continue to increase, such that by 2010 a fully interactive, on-line national spatial digital data base could be achieved. An on-line system will create the expectation that NMD would greatly compress the time between data acquisition and product accessibility. This requires that new techniques and methodologies for updating srdd be examined by NMD. The creation of an on-line data base will be a major effort. Its conceptualization will require the best efforts of expert task forces drawn from all sectors of the GIS-using community, as well as NMD expertise and management. Recommendation 6: Research Responsibility The National Mapping Division should expand its current research activities. This expansion should include research in digital cartography, geographic information systems, and remote sensing and image processing. Further the committee recommends that the USGS appoint a committee composed of USGS, other governmental entities (federal, state, and local), industrial representatives, and university personnel to assist in the development of a research agenda. The USGS/NMD was an early leader in GIS research and development, but at present the demands of developing the Mark II system in conjunction with creating the NDCDB at 1:24,000 appear to be absorbing a significant portion of its R&D resources. This is unfortunate because the emerging spatial data handling enterprise requires substantial new knowledge, parts of which could be developed under federal leadership and coordination. Traditional cartography evolved over a long period, and during that time pragmatic practical approaches to mapping dominated, while the theory of spatial representation was poorly developed. This absence of basic understanding about the nature of cartography has become apparent as attempts to instruct
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Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program machines how to do what humans have done for centuries have often met with limited success. To improve our basic understanding of the nature of cartography and to expand our knowledge of spatial representation and associated problems in digital spatial data handling, NMD should place renewed emphasis on and expand in-house research; it should also expand its existing interactions with industry and the university community. The USGS/NMD should consider appointing a committee composed of USGS, other federal agencies, private industry, and university personnel to assist in the development of a research agenda balanced between fundamental and applied research. This agenda should expand upon current NMD fundamental and applied research thrusts. Development of a prioritized multiyear research agenda should be derived from the deliberations of the committee recommended above. Examples of productive research themes that encompass research in the areas of digital cartography, geographic information systems, image processing and analysis, and remote sensing include: digital spatial data modeling; hardware and software development; land-use/land-cover analysis; and the monitoring of global change. While there is some overlap among these themes, they do provide general categories around which an applied and fundamental research program could be structured. A VISION FOR THE FUTURE As the twenty-first century begins and this nation’s economy continues to be transformed by technology from one dominated by production utilizing natural resources to one based on service, transportation, and information, it will require increasingly the support of what might be called an information infrastructure. This infrastructure will include not only myriad data sets (and a spectrum of public and private sector organizations to create or gather them), but also complex systems for coordinating, storing, processing, managing, and distributing them. From this perspective it would appear that it is in the best national interest for the USGS/NMD to be transformed prior to 2010 from a mapping service organization to the federal agency responsible for structuring and coordinating the geographic or spatial component of the national infrastructure. It would serve and (utilizing the concept of data donors) be served by data users in all sectors of the economy, not just organizations with natural resource or earth science management responsibilities. Such a transformation can take place gradually, but it requires that clear vision of ultimate goals be in place so that all subsequent technological and institutional developments occur in an orderly, purposive fashion. Such transformation will not take place without substantial investment in
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Spatial Data Needs: The Future of the National Mapping Program the public and private sectors and a reordering of traditional priorities and organizational structures. Although the field is still emerging, it is clear that GIS technology, to which computers are central, will be pervasive by 2010. The need for a high-quality, comprehensive, current national base data to serve as the geometric framework to which specialized data sets (themes, overlays, coverage, layers—whatever terminology comes to be widely accepted) can be registered is developing at a far faster rate than anyone could have predicted even five years ago. Users who become familiar with the utility of the 1:100,000 TIGER files in the early 1990s are likely to want the more detailed 1:24,000 files of the NDCDB long before they are ready, unless the pace of development is accelerated significantly. Pressure is mounting for the immediate digital equivalent of topographic maps that were decades in the making. If such data are not available soon, untold millions and possibly even billions of dollars will be spent to create redundant data bases that will only meet users’ short-term needs. This report has reviewed changing user requirements for products and services produced by the USGS in its NMD. To summarize, the committee finds there are four classes of geographic or spatial information users requiring NMD consideration: (1) those whose needs are and continue to be met satisfactorily by printed maps; (2) those whose needs are met by printed maps and digital data currently available; (3) those whose current needs for digital data could be met by NDCDB if it were available; and (4) those who have needs that were never met by USGS maps and will still not be met by NDCDB unless additional data are included. The committee suggests that acceleration of the pace of digital data production will satisfy users in classes two and three, but that it must also be combined with some changes in content to satisfy users in class four. This country has a tradition of localized control in the public sector and a belief in the power of free market forces operating in the private sector to best serve the national interest. But in an era of instantaneous nationwide and worldwide transmission of information, it may no longer make sense to compartmentalize data production responsibility in quite the same ways as have prevailed in the past. Survival in an increasingly global economy, dominated by ever larger private/public sector coalitions in countries outside the United States, may be possible only if commitments are made in this country to a national policy for increased information development and sharing. The committee believes that geographic/spatial data at scales from local to global form an essential part of the national information infrastructure. It urges the Congress and the administration to pursue aggressively programs and funding that would allow USGS/NMD to play a central role in the management and dissemination of this critical national resource. By responding to the recommendations contained in this report, the committee believes the USGS/NMD will continue a transformation already well under way.
Representative terms from entire chapter: