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Update: Revised Geospatial Data Act Passes, Becomes Law

by Anthony Calamito

On November 15, 2017, an updated version of the Geospatial Data Act of 2017 was released in both the House (H.R.4395) and Senate (S.2128). This was an update to Senate billS.1253 released back in May 2017. In October 2018, the bill – now called the Geospatial Data Act of 2018 – passed both houses and was signed into law by the President as part of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. Read more on GISLounge.

The updated version of the bill promotes several good ideas:

  • Section 2 defines the term ‘geospatial data’ for the federal government
  • Section 3 clarifies the role of a Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC)
  • Section 4 clarifies the role of a National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC)
  • Section 5 describes the importance of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI)
  • Section 8 describes the creation and operation of the ‘GeoPlatform’ as an electronic service that provides access to geospatial data and metadata for geospatial data

Boundless agrees with the provisions laid out in these above sections, as we believe in the open and free exchange of geospatial data, metadata, standards and derivatives. We are encouraged to see GIS take center stage in discussions within the federal government, and support the idea of saving taxpayer dollars through better coordination at the federal level. Now that controversial sections of the original version have been removed, we’re happy to stand behind this important bill.

 

Issues with the Original Bill

Back in May of 2017, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced bill S.1253, more commonly referred to as the Geospatial Data Act of 2017, as a bipartisan bill “to improve the coordination and use of geospatial data.” This bill is a reintroduction of S.740 (Geospatial Data Act of 2015), which was introduced during the 114th Congress and was never enacted.

While the original bill promoted many of the same provisions listed in the current bill, it also included sections that were considered to be controversial, such as updating Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) with an updated definition of “surveying and mapping.”

Section 11 and the Brooks Act

Section 11 of the original bill is where things started to get interesting, particularly in subsections B and C. There was language surrounding the reuse of federal data, and the suggested expansion the definition of “surveying and mapping” to include the broad definition of “geospatial data” from Section 2. This is important because subsection C suggests that the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) be updated with this new definition of “surveying and mapping.”

To understand the implications of this, we must look at the Brooks Act (also known as Qualifications-Based Selection or the Selection of Architects and Engineers Statute), a federal procurement law enacted in 1972. The Brooks Act requires that the U.S. Federal Government select architecture and engineering (A&E) firms based upon their competency, qualifications and experience, rather than by price. The Act was put in place to limit federal contracts for specific, traditional architectural and engineering services to licensed A&E firms. Boundless has no issue with the Brooks Act and supports the idea of qualifications-based selection, regardless of the topic area. We understand the importance of accuracy, precision and pedigree of collected data, and believe that when it comes to data collection, Civil Engineers, Surveyors and Certified Photogrammetrists should be leveraged to ensure the highest standards are met. But section 11 of the GDA proposed to update the FAR by expanding the scope of the Brooks Act so that “A&E services” would include all of the “geospatial data” outlined in section 2. This would have meant that only A&E firms would be able to bid on, and work on, all projects related to geospatial data.

As we all know, GIS expands beyond just data collection into remote sensing, cartography, data science and spatial analysis. A&E firms do not always have expertise in all of these areas, so to restrict all work against geospatial data to A&E firms seems counterintuitive to the whole point of the Brooks Act and the spirit of the GDA to begin with (making sure the most qualified firms do the work). The geospatial sector is massive, and such a law would have severely limited the number of firms that can bid and perform work. The effects would have been felt from the smallest business to the largest corporations.

After a consolidated response from academia and the industry (including AAG, Boundless, Esri, USGIF and many others), these controversial elements were removed from the current bill. 

This post was originally published on November 29, 2017, and also appeared on GIS Lounge.