GIS Thoughts

USGS – admits failure and turns to outsourcing ?

Adena at All Points Blog reports on some very interesting news from the USGS, which seems to be beginning the process of outsourcing map production. New USGS Director Patrick Leahy is reported to be looking to outsource the production of maps in flood risk areas to state and local government and importantly commercial suppliers. This follows the inability of USGS to deliver appropriate mapping following the Katrina flooding of New Orleans.

As I pointed out at the SoC conference last month much of the topo mapping covering this part of the states is nearly 30 years old, a result of the under funding of the USGS over many decades. I wonder if this out-sourcing will come with additional funding – or are the USGS falling into the trap believing that “somebody else” will be able to do what they themselves has been unable to for the same money ?

Or maybe we are beginning to see the commercialisation of topo data in the United States ?

Written and submitted from the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, using its free 802.11 network.

3 replies on “USGS – admits failure and turns to outsourcing ?”

I attended TerraFutures and was impressed by the quality of the presentations, particularly the one on semanticgrid. My first thoughts were about how this technology could facilitate the development of geographic ontologies – essential for the implementation of DNF. You related this to the understanding of text in context i.e. the place name Reading. I have long held a desire to implement software like Autonomy ( in a spatial context – not only solving and possibly building ontology “on-the-fly”, but applying it’s Bayesian algorithms in a 3D spatial context rather than a purely textual one. Is this an area the OS would consider spending some of its R&D budget on?

There are actually two separate issues – one is outsourcing of government work involving contractors and the other is commercialization. Both have been going on the the U.S. Federal government for many years under the rubric of ‘cost savings’ but now seems to be accelerating (even the military is being outsourced …). The use of contracted employees usually still permits the Federal government to retain control over operations and any resulting data/information compared to buying commercial data/services.

The number of U.S. Federal government employees has been shrinking over the years and the number of contractors skyrocketing. Many government employees now simply manage the work done by the contractors – for example, at the NASA EROS Data Center probably fewer than 20% of the staff are actual government employees. Nearly all of 2010 Census data management and processing has been outsourced.

Advances in technology have apparently finally also caught up with the peretually underfunded U.S. Geological Survey. All such Federal agencies continue to face budget cuts (even the Weather Service is just scrimping by – it cannot afford to replace all of its weather buoys and field offices lost in the recent hurricanes). The USGS has been considering consolidation to save money and has been similarly reviewing its operations for cost savings. When this occurs there is a government directive requiring ‘competitive sourcing’ which means both federal employees and private companies bid for the work ( There certainly won’t be any additional funding for out-sourcing.

Yet another way to save money is to share the cost of data with State and Local governments which the USGS is actively pursuing. I would not be surprised to see the mapping operations of the USGS being phased out in the not too distant future.

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