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Advocacy: URISA's Policy Advisory Committee

URISA's Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) is a very active and engaged committee.
Glenn O'Grady provided an update on PAC activities during GIS-Pro 2020. Members are welcome to participate! 

URISA actively works to advance and support the GIS profession and GIS professionals. That work requires developing clear positions on critical issues and advocating for those positions.

Geospatial Data Act

US Census 

Make your opinion known with your government representatives. Share your feedback with your representatives in the U.S. House and  Senate.

GPS at Risk

This free webinar was sponsored by XyHt and URISA on June 9, hosted by Esri

Overview: On April 16, 2020 the FCC, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai drafted an order that would approve Ligado’s (formerly LightSquared) application to deploy a low powered L-Band network despite objections from the Department of Defense, private industry, and geospatial professionals. Tests show that implementing Ligado’s proposal would drastically disrupt Global Positioning System (GPS) as we now know it.

Panelists included:

Dr. Stuart Riley: Riley received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Leeds (United Kingdom) where he then worked as a research fellow in 1994–5. After that, he joined Trimble Navigation Ltd. as a GNSS receiver designer. He is based in Sunnyvale, California, where since 2010 he has served as the company’s engineering director.

Karen Van Dyke:  As the U.S. DOT Volpe Center's principal technical advisor for Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Karen serves as Director for Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) and Spectrum Management in the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology.

Panel Moderator: Gavin Schrock, PLS, is a land surveyor, technology writer, and xyHt editor.


  • To view the recorded webinar, click here
  • Participants were encouraged to contact their local representatives to voice their concern. 
  • Make your opinion known with your government representatives. Share your feedback with your representatives in the U.S. House and  Senate.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

At its May 13, 2020 meeting the URISA Board voted to partner with the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) and the American Association of Geographers (AAG) to submit a public comment expressing our opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule. This rule would minimize any research that does not make their raw data publicly available when the EPA considers new regulations. The rule would also allow the EPA to review current regulations formulated with research whose data is not public.

While URISA supports open research and data when possible, there is important research that contains personally identifiable medical and location information, as well as proprietary data, that cannot be made public. Although the amended rule allows some discretion by the EPA, it provides no criteria for its use.

 The Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO) - of which URISA is a member - is pleased to release a second Report Card from its ongoing review of the U.S. National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). This Report Card serves as a periodic assessment of the condition of the nation’s geospatial data infrastructure, which, like other forms of public works, is essential for our economy, health, safety, and activities of daily life. Read the full report here: http://cogo.pro/Report_Card.html

New URISA White Paper: "Defining the Boundaries of Practice Between Surveyors and GIS Professionals - Background with Recommendations" - December 2018

Geospatial Data Act

Geospatial Data Act update from URISA's Policy Advisory Committee Chair, Glenn O'Grady: "Today, October 3, the Senate passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 which included the Geospatial Act of 2018.  It now goes to the President for his signature as it was previously passed by the House on September 26.  This has been the culmination of several years of effort by URISA and other geospatial organizations to shape the bill's language to be acceptable to us all.  We extend our congratulations and thanks to the Policy Advisory Committee, National States Geographic Information Council, Association of American Geographers, and the other COGO members who played substantive roles in the getting the Geospatial Data Act passed."

Geospatial Data Act (S.1253) - URISA International has been involved  since the bill was introduced. See the timeline below.

Also see the URISA Geospatial Fact Sheet on the GDA.

Part of URISA's mandate is to protect, promote and grow the GIS profession. And that includes monitoring and reacting to any possible negative impacts to our members' livelihood.  There has been quite a bit of dialogue recently about the Geospatial Data Act of 2017 (S.1253).

URISA's Policy Advisory Committee has been actively debating and developed a position statement which the Board just approved. Take some time to read through the full text of the bill along with the URISA Board's position. 

November 29, 2017- 

August 31, 2017 - URISA, along with the 12 other members of the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations (COGO), is pleased to be working with Senators Hatch and Warner in an attempt to resolve issues identified by URISA and others with the The Geospatial Data Act of 2017 (S. 1253).  This is just one more example of URISA's ongoing efforts to protect GIS professionals and their work environments.  See the COGO news release.

July 5, 2017URISA Opposes the Current Version of the Geospatial Data Act of 2017

US Census

URISA continues to keep an eye on the happenings in Washington DC and around the world that impact GIS. In May 2017, URISA became a Census Project stakeholder. The Census Project is an ad hoc coalition of hundreds of organizations across the country that support a fair and accurate decennial census and comprehensive American Community Survey. In addition, we signed on to letters encouraging a well-funded Census and a timely appointment of a new Census Director. These programs are critical for many of our members. So URISA wants to do what it can to ensure they remain viable.  

October 2020 - URISA, along with with 370 national, state, and local groups, signs onto Census Project stakeholder letter to support bipartisan legislation to extend the time to get a complete and accurate 2020 count. Specifically, they urged senators to cosponsor or support the bipartisan 2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act (S. 4571), which would extend the statutory deadlines for delivering apportionment and redistricting data to April and July 2021, respectively, as the administration requested in April 2020.

August 2020 - URISA signs onto Census Project stakeholder letter urging Senate leaders to add a provision to the next COVID relief bill that would extend statutory deadlines and give the Census Bureau four more months to get a quality count of everyone in the country

June 2020 - URISA signs onto Census Project stakeholder letter calling on Senate to match House plan to give Census $400 Million in Next COVID-19 Relief Bill

May 2020 - URISA signs onto Census Project stakeholder letter urging support for $1.681 billion for the Census Bureau in FY 2021 and raising awareness of the Bureau’s potential need for supplemental funding due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

July 2019 - URISA signs onto Census Project stakeholder letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide the Census Bureau with $8.4 billion (of which $7.5 billion would be dedicated to supporting the 2020 Census) in FY 2020.

June 2019 - URISA signs onto Census Project stakeholder letter to the U.S. House of Representatives in support of funding the Census Bureau and 2020 Census in the FY 2020 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill.

April 2019 - URISA signs onto Census Project stakeholder letter urging sufficient funding for the 2020 Census

March 2019 - URISA signs on to American Library Association letter (via the Census Project) urging a robust program of Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QACs)

December 2018 - URISA signs onto Census Project stakeholder letter urging the Senate’s prompt confirmation of Dr. Steven Dillingham to be the next director of the U.S. Census Bureau

May 2018 - URISA signs onto Census Project stakeholder letter expressing support for sufficient funding for the U.S. Census Bureau and, in particular, 2020 Census activities in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019.

April 2018 -  URISA signs onto Census Project stakeholder letters to the House and Senate expressing concern regarding citizenship question

February 24, 2017URISA joins geospatial community to voice concerns about  S. 103 and H.R. 482, legislation regarding Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations.

February 20, 2017 - From Tripp Corbin's recent column in THE GIS Professional):

Several recent bills have been introduced at both the Federal and State level which could have an impact on our profession. Just in case you have not been following these on the URISA Facebook page or twitter feed, here they are:

US House and Senate Bills (HR482 and S103) 

The US House and Senate have two bills that are still in committee, HR 482 and S103. These two sister bills were put forward to roll back some fair housing rules that had been applied to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2015. Of note is section 3 contained within these bills which states:

SEC. 3. PROHIBITION ON USE OF FEDERAL FUNDS. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.

The House Bill was sponsored by Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona. The Senate bill was sponsored by Mike Lee of Utah.

The concern to the GIS community is that the wording contained in these bills does not just limit funding to HUD activities but indicates all federal funds associated with supporting any geospatial databases or apps that allow access to information that might point out racial disparities even if that is not their specific purpose. This could then impact multiple agencies, data sources and applications across the board such as the Census.  

Virginia House and Senate Bills (HR2145 and SB1572)

These two companion bills were recently introduced in the Virginia Legislative houses by the Virginia Association of Surveyors to remove an exemption from the law which allowed non licensed individuals to perform specific tasks as long as they included a disclaimer with their work. The current Virginia Law states:

  1. Persons utilizing photogrammetric methods or similar remote sensing technology shall not be required to be licensed as a land surveyor pursuant to subsection B of § 54.1-404 or 54.1-406 to: (i) determine topography or contours, or to depict physical improvements, provided such maps or other documents shall not be used for the design, modification, or construction of improvements to real property or for flood plain determination, or (ii) graphically show existing property lines and boundaries on maps or other documents provided such depicted property lines and boundaries shall only be used for general information.

Any determination of topography or contours, or depiction of physical improvements, utilizing photogrammetric methods or similar remote sensing technology by persons not licensed as a land surveyor pursuant to § 54.1-406 shall not show any property monumentation or property metes and bounds, nor provide any measurement showing the relationship of any physical improvements to any property line or boundary.

Any person not licensed pursuant to subsection B of § 54.1-404 or 54.1-406 preparing documentation pursuant to subsection C of § 54.1-402 shall note the following on such documentation: "Any determination of topography or contours, or any depiction of physical improvements, property lines or boundaries is for general information only and shall not be used for the design, modification, or construction of improvements to real property or for flood plain determination."

The Virginia Association of Surveyors feel this exemption needs to be removed because it has:

  • created confusion on what work requires a licensed surveyor and what does not
  • resulted in unlicensed work being used for applications that under the law should be licensed
  • provides a serious threat to public health, welfare and safety

There is a lot of concern within the GIS community that is another attempt by Surveyors to restrict the use of GIS and take control of our industry especially since this on the heels of changes made to surveying laws in North Carolina that broadened the scope of the definition of surveying which has directly had a negative impact on several GIS businesses in that state. We have also heard that possible similar law changes are in the works for Maryland.

So what is URISA doing about these issues? That is a great question.

URISA is actively investigating these two cases so we can provide a well-reasoned and organized response. Our Policy Advisory Committee is examining both and will be providing the Board with recommendations on how URISA should best respond to each of these to insure the greatest impact. We want to make sure the GIS community is well represented and our position is well stated.

While that is happening, we are not just sitting around. We have begun to take some preemptive action to help provide more time for URISA, our members and the general community to respond. We have reached out to our sister organization such as COGO, AAG, GISCI and NSGIC, ensuring they are aware of these and to further coordinate a response.

For the bills before the US House and Senate, several of our members are contacting their representatives to help educate them about our concerns and the possible impacts these changes might have.  If you have not already done so, I encourage you to join the URISA Facebook page.  We will be posting further updates and discussion about these bills here.

For the Virginia Bills, URISA has been talking directly to John Palatiello, Director of the Virginia Association of Surveyors to ensure we fully understand their goals and reasoning behind the proposed changes. John has provided two documents to help explain their position:

Further the Virginia Association of Surveyors have introduced additional wording that will be added to these bills:

"Nothing in this chapter shall require any person to be licensed by the Board as a land surveyor or land surveyor photogrammetrist to engage in the storage, retrieval, analysis, display, management or maintenance of data in a geographic information system."

They feel this should eliminate any concern within the GIS community.

While I appreciate this being added into the proposed bills, the URISA Board, Policy Advisory Committee and our legal council will be reviewing this to ensure the public’s, GIS Community’s and our members' best interest are protected. We will then be able to develop the best plan of action to move forward if needed.

This is not the first time URISA has been asked to provide an opinion and assistance on the line between GIS and Surveying. We have provided letters in instances in Kentucky, Puerto Rico and Washington State, to name a few. So rest assured we will stay on top of this.

Going forward we will also be adding a Legislative Matters section to the GIS Professional and URISA Digest to help keep you, our members, informed about any issues we know about. This is a two-way street though. So, make sure to let us know about any legislative matter you know about which could impact the GIS community for both good and bad.

So, as I said URISA has been busy this year and it has barely started. The Board, staff and volunteers are all working hard to make sure URISA is doing its best to look out for our members. As always please feel free to contact me if you ever have any concerns, questions or suggestion. Without our members, there is no URISA. We are here to support you. 

Additional Policy Statements & Recommendations


Advocacy Agenda

Policy Advisory Committee

Statement About Advocacy

Current Advocacy Agenda

1.   Executive Support & Sustainable Funding for Geospatial Programs

  • Develop, promote, and implement URISA’s Return On Investment model for GIS
  • Engage URISA Chapters to promote and enhance geospatial activities
  • Encourage the application of geospatial technology in support of social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities

See NSGIC's document on Economic Studies for GIS Operations which the URISA Board endorsed as a valuable reference (Nov 2013).

2.   Nationwide Development of High Quality, Publicly Accessible Geospatial Data

  • Promote development of URISA’s Geospatial Capability Maturity Assessment
  • Support and encourage development of a shared geospatial data infrastructure “For the Nation”
  • Support and encourage development of policies and legal frameworks for sharing geospatial data
  • Support and encourage formation of “Collaboration Infrastructures” for geospatial data sharing/use
  • Support and encourage the development of central repositories of geospatial data and metadata
  • Support and encourage development of high accuracy geospatial data

See NSGIC's document on Geospatial Data Sharing Guidelines for Best Practices which the URISA Board endorsed as a valuable reference (Nov 2013).

3.  Affordable Geospatial Training Programs Offered by Academic Institutions and Other Organizations

  • Support GeoTech Center and others in developing affordable geospatial training
  • Identify and promote open educational resources initiatives internationally
  • Promote more federal financial aid opportunities for part-time & non-traditional students
  • Continue developing web-based curricula of URISA workshops and webinars
  • Create web collaborations to extend reach of geospatial education beyond URISA

4.   Highly Capable Geospatial Workforce to Meet Current and Future Demands

  • Support implementation of Geospatial Technology Competency Model
  • Promote use/understanding of the GIS&T Body of Knowledge
  • Promote use/implementation of the Geospatial Management Competency Model

Policy Advisory Committee

The PAC is advisory to the URISA Board.  It monitors local and national activities, advising the board when it feels action is necessary and recommends appropriate responses. Contact PAC Chair Glenn O'Grady.

URISA Board Statement About Advocacy

Truly valuable professional associations do three things well for their members: education, communication, and advocacy. URISA has always advocated on behalf of its members, but we’ve recently started to take the advocacy role to a new, more effective level. There’s a value proposition for you in the URISA advocacy role: Having URISA on your side, speaking out for you to National and State/Provincial Legislatures, County, City, and Town Commissions, and Regional/Tribal Governments will result in greater, more effective investment in geospatial systems (data, people and technology) for everyone.

For that to happen, you have to let URISA know what geospatial issues are important to you and what you think should be done to improve things. At the annual GIS-Pro conference, there are many opportunities in which URISA Chapter leaders and members get a chance to talk about what they’ve heard from their members on important issues. The URISA Advocacy Agenda Committee also solicits input from all URISA and Chapter members through a survey in the months leading up to GIS-Pro. We spend time in many of the conference sessions discussing those important issues and defining actions that need to be taken…actions for which URISA can advocate.

The result of the discussions at GIS-Pro and a member-wide survey is the URISA Advocacy Agenda (detailed above). This tool provides any member a way to show leaders in their jurisdiction what URISA believes is important and what actions are needed to make the agenda items a reality. 

We are already using the Advocacy Agenda to coordinate efforts on executive support, data development, education, and workforce development with a number of other professional associations, thereby leveraging the influence of many others to accomplish our objectives. For example, we are coordinating with the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) on national address data development and Next Generation 911. We’re coordinating with the U.S. Department of Labor and the Surveying & Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) on workforce development and education/training. We also work with the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations on all of our advocacy agenda items in various ways.

URISA and our partner organizations communicate directly with leaders in Congress and the White House, with State legislators and with local elected officials often throughout the year to advocate for specific actions that align with our advocacy agenda. The Advocacy Agenda is there for you to use to do the same, to ensure that we are all speaking with the same powerful voice. The Advocacy Agenda guides our efforts as a professional association and helps us prioritize those efforts. 

The coordination we’re doing with other associations and organizations is something that’s made possible because we’re working together through URISA to use the combined influence of our membership. That combined influence, reflected through our Advocacy Agenda, and brought to bear on the problems and issues that stand in the way of our individual and collective success is tremendously valuable to every member.


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