State Department watchdog finds major issues with agency geospatial data compliance

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participates in a question and answer session at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in July 2020. (State Department / Freddie Everett)

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The State Department’s inspector general said in late August that the agency is not complying with records retention requirements for certain geospatial data, which could prevent the American public from obtaining maximum benefit from such information and restrict the preservation of data for historical records.

The inconsistencies in geospatial or location-related data practices across the State Department may hurt funding mechanisms for geospatial programs, result in dataset errors, and negatively affect external stakeholder perception, according to the watchdog.

The Geospatial Data Act of 2018 (GDA) requires federal agencies that collect or use geospatial data to comply with certain requirements like following geospatial data standards developed by the Federal Geographic Data Committee and limiting the use of federal funds associated with geospatial data that do not comply with applicable standards.

“The Department was not in compliance with the remaining responsibilities in the GDA, which include records retention, resource allocation, use of data standards, privacy protections, non-duplication of data, and data quality” the Office of the Inspector General of the State Department wrote in its recent audit

“The Department has not fully complied with all responsibilities, in part, because of an inadequate internal control environment. Specifically, the Department lacks dedicated funding to facilitate compliance with its GDA responsibilities,” the OIG said.

The GDA reflects growing recognition of the essential role of geospatial data and technology in government and it represents the need to support the continuing development and application of geospatial capabilities as a critical infrastructure.

The OIG added that the agency does not have adequate control activities in place, such as documented policies and procedures and instead, internal bureaus follow informal or general practices to carry out many of the GDA responsibilities. 

The OIG audit found that until all applicable GDA responsibilities are fulfilled, the State Department will not be fully prepared to provide timely, accurate, and high-quality geospatial data to both internal and external stakeholders as it is expected to by law. 

OIG made four recommendations to address the internal control deficiencies identified and improve its geospatial data standards. 

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Geospatial, Geospatial Data Act of 2015, Office of the Inspector General, OIG, State Department
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