July 29, 2003 By Merrill Douglas
The portal clearly offers benefits to federal and state agencies. To meet their own needs, local governments develop large-scale maps -- often at 1:2,400 inches, Fairfax County's Conry explained. "The feds tend to compile their data at best at 1:24,000," he said, noting that if counties and cities contribute GIS files to the portal, federal and state agencies will have access to more accurate maps than they can develop on their own.
That particular advantage doesn't run in both directions. "The feds will have the ability to get information from all the different local governments," Jarreau said.
Since counties and cities usually develop the most accurate maps of their areas, access to GIS data created by state and federal agencies doesn't always help them. But easy access to data for neighboring jurisdictions could help local governments with regional applications, such as environmental management and homeland security.
Most watersheds cut across political boundaries, Garie explained, and a county examining land use within a watershed would need data from several of its neighbors.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if, from your browser, you could pull in land use data from the four or five other counties also in that watershed?" he asked, adding that the One-Stop portal would allow a county to download any available data about that region, whether developed by federal, state or local agencies.
It might also help agencies save money, since they could leverage GIS data that other agencies already developed, Conry said. "Potentially Geospatial One-Stop could go to the next level and become a purchasing approach," he said, in which agencies with similar needs could share the cost of aerial photography and other activities.
If the portal helps federal agencies deploy GIS funds more effectively, that will help local governments as well, Jarreau said. "In the past, the funding was there, but it was spent on doing useless activities that didn't provide us the right information or the right scale data," he said.
Potential users also like that Geospatial One-Stop will encourage agencies to describe similar geographic features in similar ways, making it possible to blend data from different sources in a single map. "To the extent that they start to foster more of a standardization process, I see real value coming out [of that effort]," Conroy said.
Along with developing a central portal, the Geospatial One-Stop program will urge states to create portals of their own, so data can be easily shared across a network of portals nationwide, according to Garie.
How to Pay?
Persuading state and local governments to join the collaborative effort could prove a challenge, Garie said. "It will probably take some outreach and education on our part," he said. "And it may also require us to think creatively about partnerships to engage state and locals to begin to roll out the portals at the state nodes."
"Partnerships" means cost sharing, and one big concern for state and local governments is how to afford participation in Geospatial One-Stop. "It's going to require the implementation of common standards," NACo's Jarreau said. "To get a county to do that, you're going to have to come up with some funding."
Local governments also need help keeping their GIS files up to date, Conry said.
"We ought to be sharing our data up the chain -- state, federal, regional," he said, adding that in exchange for providing data in standard formats, local governments could benefit from federal-local partnerships to cover the bills.
To keep costs down for state and local governments, standards arising from Geospatial One-Stop should be minimal, Trobia said, which would create just enough conformity to allow agencies to share data. But they should not force agencies to drastically revise GIS installations they already have in place, or require them to meet cumbersome requirements when creating new databases.
Many local governments consider their data proprietary, Trobia said. They're concerned about costs of participating in Geospatial One-Stop and possible liability issues should someone use their data improperly.
"They're looking at trying to do cost recovery for making that data available," Trobia said. "So not all data is available for free. But I like to think that even if that's the case, data should be freely available."
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