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:

  • “georeferenced data transcribed into a Geographic Information System or Land Information System format by manual or electronic means, and the maintenance of that data;”
  • “tax parcel maps, zoning maps, and other public data records transcribed into Geographic Information System or Land Information System formatted cadastres, and the maintenance of those cadastres if the data are not modified for other than graphical purposes;”
  • “data depicting the distribution of natural or cultural resources, features, or phenomena;”
  • “data used by a Federal agency (including contractors of a Federal agency) in the preparation or transcription of documents or databases into a Geographical Information System or Land Information System format in the preparation or transcription of Federal census or other demographic data;”

In all, there are eighteen such specific use cases described in some detail.  NSGIC and those supporting the bill are quick to offer that it is not the intent of the bill to exclude anyone from generating geospatial data, and those are less certain that such broad language would not be interpreted to the letter of the law which is set by the above definitions. 

What is clear is that the process appears to be moving slowly forward with expected introduction of the same bill in the House this fall.  This is legislation that will likely impact at least a portion of the UCGIS member organizations in some way.  I encourage everyone to read the bill ( and form your own opinion on this important legislation focused on the geospatial community. 

A more detailed response by the UCGIS about the GDA can be found here (pdf)

Aaron Addison, Washington University at St. Louis and Chair, UCGIS External Relations Committee

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