At a GITA-sponsored webinar yesterday John Wertman, responsible for government relations at the American Association of Geographers (AAG), gave an insightful presentation about the Geospatial Data Act (GDA) of 2017 (S.1253) which has been introduced in the Senate. (Representatives Bruce Westerman (R-AR) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) introduced a companion bill in the House as H.R.3522.) This bill has some history. It was originally proposed in 2015 by Orrin Hatch, a Republican Senator from Utah, and sponsored by five Republicans and five Democrats. The 2015 bill consisted of 10 sections and basically codified and strengthened federal government practices relating to geospatial data. For example, it proposed that the chair of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) be the Director of the Office Management and Budget (OMB), an agency that has statutory authority and can set standards and enforce practices for all government departments. This would provide FGDC with the authority to make other agencies follow existing common sense rules. The bill established a clear vision, assigned responsibility, provided authority and ensured oversight of Federal activities by Congress. These improvements were intended to help ensure that the U.S. is able to build a robust National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). According to Wertman the 2015 bill enjoyed wide support in the geospatial community throughout the U.S. and was generally viewed as a positive step forward.
However the 2015 bill was blocked in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. It has been suggested that MAPPS, an organization representing some engineering and surveying firms that is attempting to restrict procurement of geospatial services by extending the Brooks Act to cover the geospatial sector, was instrumental in getting the 2015 bill blocked in committee. As a result the 2015 bill was rewritten with two additional sections that broadly extended the definition of survey data and mandated rules (Brooks Act) for procurement of geospatial services by the federal government. According to MAPPS it worked closely with Senator Hatch and others, particularly NSGIC, on this legislation.
According to Wertman the 2017 bill would mean that many government contracts would no longer be available to GIS shops and academic institutions. The bill would effectively exclude everyone but licensed architects, engineers, and surveyors from federal government contracts for GIS and mapping services of all kinds, not just those services traditionally provided by surveyors. The bill as currently formulated would also have implications for state government procurement because they often implement statutes similar to the federal government. For those who believe that a free and open geospatial sector has encouraged the high level of innovation that has characterized the sector this is not viewed as a positive step. The AAG argues that the bill will limit competition, innovation and free-market approaches for a crucial high-growth information technology sector of the U.S.economy and would cripple the current vibrant GIS industry, damage U.S. geographic information science, research capacity, and shackle government agencies, which depend on the existing GIS and mapping workforce. Wertman said that the AAG views the 2015 bill as a positive step forward for the U.S. geospatial community but is opposed to the 2017 bill because of the restrictive procurement rules that were added to the bill.