GeoCarta Has Moved

Feb 14, 2006

GIS Professionals Help Congress Think Geospatially

In the basement of the Library of Congress, two Geographic Information Systems (GIS) professionals work to give members of Congress a perspective that was impossible in the past. Government Technology reports on the work of Ginny Mason and Jacob Zonn, who direct and operate the Congressional Cartography Program (CCP).

A Small Start
The Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress had been fielding occasional, requests for GIS services for years. In 2003, the library decided to create the CCP to serve the growing need for GIS maps. CCP is the exclusive GIS mapping source for Congress.

Mr. Zonn told the magazine, "Ginny and I basically built this program from the ground up. We arrived here with two copies of [ESRI's] ArcView and a 60-inch plotter, and no real vision or mission to get going on, so we've created all that ourselves."

A Growing Mission
To date, CCP has produced more than 150 GIS maps for various members of Congress and their staff. They've created maps at the block level up to a global level. Examples include a map CCP created to helped FEMA assess damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, and a project showing the impact of legislation for re-establishment of funding for Amtrak would have. The only type of map CCP will not produce are maps for a member's political campaign.

Loads Of Data
While CCP may have a small staff, one thing they are not short of is data. CCP can access the vast stores of data within the Library of Congress, and other government sources as well. Gerry Clancy, a project manager at ESRI, told the magazine, "They have national coverage of all of the demographic, economic and road networks and congressional districts -- they overlay onto that information provided to them by the various branches [of government], and depending on what the question is, they do some spatial analysis to help them understand how all that fits together."

Can Lawmakers Think Geospatially?
While the GIS technology CCP can bring to an issue can be a valuable resource, it's yet to be seen if members of congress are ready to use that tool to its fullest potential. Cindy Domenico, president of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association told the magazine, "How do you influence decision-makers? How do you help them understand what you're bringing to the table when you have this technology? ... A lot of people aren't ready [for the technology]. It takes a visual image of the problem solved to help them understand it."

Mr. Clancy, the ESRI project manager thinks that time will come, "The beauty of GIS technology is that it provides that visual image some will require to understand its effectiveness."