Issues with the Geospatial Data Act of 2017

The Geospatial Data Act of 2017 has been making news in the geospatial community since its introduction in May of this year by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. You can find the full text available at  As of early August, the bill had been introduced in the Senate, and referred to the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee.  Earlier this summer the organization NSGIC ( posted on their site that they were supporting the bill and had assisted in drafting some of the language in the text.  The stated goal is focused on strengthening efforts at building the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) and to reduce duplicated efforts by various agencies in authoring geospatial data.  While these are certainly goals that are shared by many in the wider geospatial community (including UCGIS), several organizations, such as COGO and AAG, have noted that some of the language in the bill is unnecessarily vague and may be interpreted to exclude many institutions and individuals currently producing geospatial data for the government.

More specifically, the bill assigns “geospatial data” with the same definition as “survey and mapping” and then provides a very broad use of the definition as it relates to the Geospatial Data Act.  The definition language used in the bill is based on the Brooks Architect-Engineers Act (cite) that requires that work falling under the definitions above are awarded exclusively to A&E firms with professionally licensed staff.

Some examples included in the Geospatial Data Act include:

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Reinventing the Sustainability Wheel, by Nina Lam

Professors Luc Anselin and Jerome Dobson have written two excellent, thought-provoking columns, which set a standard that is hard for me to reach here. Their columns post poignant remarks on “space skepticism” and “clerks of science” and seem to paint a more pessimistic view about GIScience, geography, and/or spatial science (hereafter called GIScience). I agree wholeheartedly with the issues raised in their columns and that our field deserves much better recognition. In this column, however, I would like to inject a more optimistic perspective. I think that GIScience has indeed progressed enormously over the last 30-some years, thanks to the movers and shakers in the field. But to continue the effort in moving GIScience into mainstream science, we need to address significant societal issues using the best organizing principles and methods in GIScience.

In searching for the value of GIScience and how our field of knowledge and techniques can be used to address critical societal problems, I found what I suggested in Year 2000 is still very much valid. What I suggested was to have “sustainability” as a key theme that GIScience should embrace in working on. I argued that GIScience principles and methods are necessary in order to address sustainability effectively. GIScience is not only an “enabling” discipline, its unique ability in integrating various theories and methods into studying complex societal problems such as sustainability will and should position GIScience as a leader in this theme. I find my current research on risk, vulnerability, resilience, and hence sustainability falling into this realm. I am enjoying my research and yet am anxiously hoping that my research would yield meaningful theoretical and practical outcomes that would ultimately benefit the people and society. So I am here reinventing the Sustainability wheel.

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Reinventing GIS and Geography, by Jerry Dobson

 Aging doesn’t suit my lifestyle, but here I am, “emeritus” at two institutions−the University of Kansas and the American Geographical Society−and “former” at UCGIS and elsewhere.  From such a lofty vantage, I should be able to offer several respectable observations, but which single thought is worthy of this opportunity that UCGIS has given me?  I believe it resides in a phrase, “clerks of science,” that captures the greatest unaddressed threat looming for geographic disciplines and fields.

Since 1993 I’ve said advances in geography could position our discipline to play a major role in important issues, such as global change or the restructuring of east European economies and societies. In contrast, advances in GIS alone are likely to cast us as clerks handling data for the geologists, biologists, ecologists, political scientists, economists, and other current leaders in these topics.  Only by joining the fray of science theory and occasionally “drawing blood” will we establish ourselves as a respected force in the upper echelons of science, science policy, and public policy influenced by science. Meanwhile, many conventional theories—developed in isolation by specialized disciplines with little thought for geographic relationships, spatial logic, or scientific integration—have stood unchallenged for decades. 

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Nominations for UCGIS Awards

UCGIS invites nominations for its 2017 Awards for excellence in Education, Research, and Mentoring. The Education Award is given to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to GIScience education, recognizing a career of professional contributions of both national and international significance to GIScience education. The Research Award is given to an individual who has made a particularly outstanding research contribution to geographic information science. This may include an outstanding peer-reviewed research work, or series of works, though other modes of expression will be considered, including patents, software packages, and non-refereed publications. The Carolyn Merry Mentoring Award, named in honor of the exceptional mentoring capabilities of former UCGIS President Carolyn Merry, is given to an individual who has demonstrated such notable and effective mentoring abilities and practices. 

Nominations for all three Awards are due by Wednesday February 1, 2017.  Please see our Awards page for more details on how to nominate your peers. 

Space Skepticism, by Luc Anselin

When asked to write this column, the topic I suggested was “space skepticism.” Space skepticism is the attitude/position that an explicit spatial perspective does not contribute in a meaningful way to the knowledge discovery process. In this view, (still) shared by many in academia, GIS and spatial technologies may be useful tools, but spatial thinking is not considered to be fundamental to the scientific process itself. Of course, this perspective is not shared by the UCGIS membership, but then among ourselves, we tend to preach to the choir. So, why do I set a negative tone in this first column in the series?

I hasten to add that I do not want to draw too dark a picture. Important progress has been made in terms of the adoption of a spatial perspective in mainstream science, policy and curriculum over the past two decades. This coincides with the establishment of UCGIS a little over 20 years ago. We have indeed come a long way. My dissertation advisor at Cornell University (the late Walter Isard) initially characterized my topic (spatial econometrics) as a “red herring” (he later came around). And one of my first submissions to an economics journal got the response from the (single) referee “what is this spatial autocorrelation?” Today, GIS(T) is increasingly common in the curriculum from high school to vocational and traditional higher education. Spatial questions are addressed in the mainstream science and social science journals, and both spatial statistics and spatial econometrics have become accepted subfields in the discipline.

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new GIS&T Body of Knowledge website

The digital version of the Geographic Information Science & Technology Body of Knowledge (BoK) is now online at! This dynamic, digital platform supports more innovative and applied uses of this knowledge. We have put in place a stable information architecture  combined with robust strategies for content management and curation.The Editorial Team invites subject matter experts with interests in writing or reviewing Topics to contact them.

Support the new AP GIS&T Course


AAG has developed a proposal for a new Advanced Placement course in Geographic Information Science and Technology (AP GIS&T) for high school students. The AP GIS&T proposal was submitted last month to the College Board, where it is now being formally reviewed. For the most current information, please see the AAG's AP GIS&T Course webpage