Consensus Report

Weaving A National Map: A Review of the U.S. Geological Survey Concept of the National Map (2003)

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.

This report discusses how the U.S. Geological Survey's proposed approach to updating its aging paper map series is ambitious, challenging, and worthwhile for the nation. However, the proposed "National Map" initiative would gain from improved definition so that the unprecedented number of partners needed for success will become energized to participate. The challenges faced by USGS in implementing The National Map are more organizational than technical, and USGS should continue to learn from challenges encountered in its ongoing pilot studies as well as from other federal-led programs that have partnered with multiple sectors.

Key Messages

  • Technically the project may be feasible; organizationally it will require a significant investment in restructuring and rethinking the systems that have changed little over the last two decades.
  • The National Map vision of the USGS is ambitious, challenging, and worthwhile. Nevertheless, there is also a uniform sense that the project is not well defined and needs a thorough definition.
  • The USGS concept of The National Map has two principal components, each dependent on the other. The first is a nationally consistent digital map coverage maintained at one or more uniform scales. The second is a patchwork of varied scales including high-resolution local data.
  • The committee sees the development of integrated base geographic information for the nation as a cultural and institutional challenge more than a scientific or technical one. Tackling this challenge will require (1) the USGS Geography Discipline to be proactive in developing relationships at all levels of government, (2) significant engagement by USGS leadership, and (3) that the USGS critically examine its philosophy, structure, and processes.