Thursday, February 14, 2008

Making GIS data easy to share

The Agriculture Department is seeking information about methods for delivering, disseminating and integrating large geospatial datasets for its Farm Service Agency and other users. USDA is interested in commercial software and/or online mapping interface services that could replace FSA's current systems.

Those systems are outdated, allow only limited access and make it difficult to share information, USDA said in the request for information posted on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site Jan. 25.

USDA wants an environment that consists of a centralized, fully integrated architecture. It could potentially be hosted at its National IT Center in Kansas City, Mo., and Aerial Photography Field Office in Salt Lake City. Centralizing the hosting of geospatial applications would improve communication between FSA headquarters, state offices and service centers.

By allowing users to access data from a central location, the system would reduce the need to request information from specific service centers.

FSA administers programs such as crop commodity price support, disaster relief and assistance for conservation practices in part by digitizing and maintaining agricultural field boundaries or common land units from digital ortho-imagery supplied by the National Agriculture Imagery Program. The agency also verifies that farmers’ and ranchers’ agricultural practices follow USDA guidelines.

The aerial imagery is viewed at 2,350 county service centers, which store and manage the geospatial data for their locales. The centers also use the imagery to help identify farm parcels and acreages. In addition, the centers store and use supplemental data provided by state and local governments and private-sector sources.

Each center has state information technology employees who maintain, update and secure the infrastructure. Clients above the service-center level can't access information because users can only work with data on the local server and within their administrative area. However, cataloging and publishing metadata on centers’ data holdings would further tax the already overstretched staff resources at the state and local levels.

Furthermore, the service centers rely on infrastructure hardware that is targeted for replacement, and an increasing number of business applications are migrating to a centralized, online environment.

The Office of the Chief Financial Officer also wants the agency to consider moving the major geospatial hardware from county service centers and consolidating the equipment at six data centers, which would reduce the risks to physical and information security.

Responses to the RFI are due Feb. 29.

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