Expert Report

National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future (2007)

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Land parcel data (also known as cadastral data) provides geographically-referenced information about the rights, interests, and ownership of land and are an important part of the financial, legal and real estate systems of society. The data are used by governments to make decisions about land development, business activities, regulatory compliance, emergency response, and law enforcement. In 1980, a National Research Council report called for nationally-integrated land parcel data, but despite major progress in development of land parcel databases in many local jurisdictions, little progress has been made towards a national system. Therefore, this National Research Council report was sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management, the Census Bureau, the Federal Geographic Data Committee, the Department of Homeland Security, and Environmental Systems Research Institute, to look at the current status of land parcel data in the United States. This report concludes that nationally-integrated land parcel data is necessary, feasible, and affordable, and provides recommendations for establishing a practical framework for sustained intergovernmental coordination and funding required to overcome the remaining challenges and move forward.

Key Messages

  • Although the benefits and needs for nationally consistent parcel data are much more clear and urgent than in 1980, there has been little progress toward the recommendations of the 1980 report. While a great deal of parcel data has been digitized at the local level, 30 percent of individual parcels still need to be converted, and there has been little progress toward an integrated national set.
  • Coordination at the state level is a necessary element of nationally integrated land parcel data and could logically be a part of the NSGIC/FGDC Fifty States Initiative.
  • Since the federal government is the largest land management agency, complete parcel data for federal lands are needed for a national data set. Therefore, it is necessary for the federal government to develop and maintain an inventory of its own property.
  • The ability of the Census Bureau to release just building address point locations could serve a multitude of uses and would have major economic benefits while not revealing confidential information about individuals. The availability of address points could dramatically improve emergency 911 systems across the nation and provide a starting point for parcel data in rural parts of the country.
  • The committee believes, first and foremost, that there is an urgent need to clarify and enforce federal agency responsibilities for land parcel-related geospatial data under OMB Circular A-16.
  • The committee concluded that complete national land parcel data are necessary, timely, technically feasible, and affordable.
  • The committee found that a significant digital parcel data divide exists between various counties. In many parts of the United States, parcel data exist only as lines on paper maps stored in a local courthouse.
  • There is a need for the federal government to maintain an inventory of tribal trust land; however, there are unique issues and requirements associated with tribal trust parcels.
  • There needs to be a better understanding of the interrelationships between land parcel data and the following OMB A-16 mandated data themes: Buildings and Facilities, Cultural Resources, Governmental Units, and Housing. This would provide for better integration of the data themes and avoid unnecessary duplication of effort.
  • To create trust among the stakeholders and address the technical and legal issues identified in this report, a national program for parcel data must have a comprehensive and accountable business plan.