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    Exploring all aspects of mapping and geography, from field data collection, to mapping and analysis, to integration, applications development, enterprise architecture and policy

NSDI for Democracy

Posted by Dave Smith On 2/07/2009 03:13:00 PM 0 comments

With news of Vivek Kundra joining the Obama administration to serve the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as their top IT visionary, it brings me great encouragement. Vivek Kundra has been serving as the District of Columbia’s Chief Technology Officer, and he recently created some excitement through his Apps for Democracy initiative, where he pursued development of an “Open Data Catalog” containing over 250 data assets of various flavors (e.g. XML, Text/CSV, KML, ATOM/GeoRSS and ESRI Shapefile formats), and then promoted a contest wrapped around the Open Data Catalog, for development of innovative mashup-oriented applications. In just a short amount of time, 47 excellent applications were submitted, dealing with a broad range of topics and providing many innovative solutions, a great success.

So what is OMB all about – and what might Kundra’s joining OMB mean?
From Wikipedia,

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is a Cabinet-level office, and is the largest office within the Executive Office of the President of the United States (EOP). It is an important conduit by which the White House oversees the activities of federal agencies. OMB is tasked with giving expert advice to senior White House officials on a range of topics relating to federal policy, management, legislative, regulatory, and budgetary issues. The bulk of OMB's 500 employees are charged with monitoring the adherence of their assigned federal programs to presidential policies. OMB performs its coordination role by gathering, filtering, and promulgating the President's annual budget request, by issuing bulletins, memoranda and circulars dictating agency management practices, by overseeing the "President's Management Agenda", and by reviewing agency regulations.

Executive oversight of federal agencies – via expert advice on federal policy, management, legislative, regulatory, and budgetary issues, to be implemented and monitored for adherence via the President’s Management Agenda. That’s quite powerful. And under the Bush administration, OMB has already begun engaging in some basic monitoring activities relating to geospatial technology and investments, under the Geospatial Line of Business (GeoLoB).

So where do we go from here? And what does Kundra’s selection mean in this mix? Only Kundra really has the answer to this, at present - however I do believe that we can make some informed guesses as to what may be on his mind, based on his past track record and accomplishments. District of Columbia’s Open Data Catalog? Think in terms of doing this across all of Federal government. Strengthen and bolster the existing OMB A-16 mandate, and drive publishing of open data. That certainly forms some excellent pieces of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure.

Foster partnership-building and collaboration, ala the Apps for Democracy effort. Perhaps, on a cross-government level, we should also be looking at approaches such as, where agencies can collaborate and share GOTS technology investments, and work together to enhance and expand technology and capability, as opposed to continually reinventing the wheel.

Other things for Kundra to look at? Alignment of efforts across government. Currently USGS and EPA collaborate on efforts to build and densify hydrology data, as the National Hydrology Dataset (NHD), and are working with states to get this to a 1:4,800 level. Meanwhile, FEMA is developing DFIRMs for flood mapping, based on county and other types of data for stream centerlines. How do we align such things as linear referencing between USGS stream gauges and FEMA for looking at flooding issues? Coordinate between NOAA and NWS for realtime storm tracking, and have models available, using all best-possible data, toward stream flood prediction? What if a truck tumbles off of a bridge and ends up in a river, releasing hazardous waste into the river – is the information flow adequate to deal with hazardous waste cleanup even where that river crosses the border into the next state downstream? Pieces and parts of these types of things are starting to happen, but where they do, it is typically only in an ad-hoc, reactive fashion, with very limited coordination or common framework. Where does one thing end and the next begin? What are the gaps? Overlaps?

Or, consider a military convoy, heading across multiple states to an exercise. Due to an emergency bridge closure, they are diverted off of the main highway and onto local roads. They may be carrying sensitive and/or high value goods, such as weapons systems. Who knows? Who SHOULD know? Perhaps local bridge weight restrictions restrict their travel even further. How do we handle this in any coordinated fashion? Who’s doing what, and who’s able to supply what data to smoothly deal with these types of situations? Federal government places some mandates on states to collect roadway data, but again, is there any mechanism for establishing data capture, transparent access and flow? What’s covered, and what isn’t? State-to-state, if there is a serious roadway closure issue just inside one state’s border, will the adjacent state know this and be able to notify motorists via VMS boards and other means?

Although there are a few exceptions here and there, more often than not, the answer to these types of questions and scenarios is “no/had no idea/what am I supposed to do about it” accompanied by shrugs. Streams do not care about political boundaries, they only understand watersheds. Roads are networks. Cars and trucks do not just reach the Edge of the Knowne Worlde and drift off into space when they cross the state line. Information access and flows must be able to bridge these gaps.

It’s pretty much a given that 90% of most business processes in Federal government touch on or deal with location in some form or fashion. Where are assets, where are people, who’s being served, and so on. Through implementation of best practices and through making data access and exchange more timely, transparent, and complete, through better alignment of technology investments and reduction of gaps and overlaps, these *shrug* moments start to vanish, and the *AHA* moments start to happen. I am hoping that Mr. Kundra is thinking the same way. If what lies ahead of us is anything like his efforts to date, we indeed have a bright future ahead of us.

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