Beyond the Shutdown: U.S. Government Data on ArcGIS Online

Has the shutdown of the U.S. Government halted your access to the GIS data you rely on? Is that lack of access affecting your work? Good news, it does not have to.  ArcGIS Online has been serving much of that data for several years now, and Esri has added more every year, keeping what is there up to date and making it always available.

Here are just a few examples of federal government data always available via ArcGIS Online:

All of these examples are hyperlinks for search results in ArcGIS Online. You can customize the search terms to focus the search for your topics of interest.

Contributed by: Sean Breyer, Program Manager for ArcGIS Online Content, and Charlie Frye, Esri Chief Cartographer.

This entry was posted in ArcGIS Online, Community Maps, Local Government, National Government, Oceans & Maritime, Public Safety, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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  1. mapsnrocks says:

    It is great that there is a sizeable array of Federal data inside ArcGIS Online and that Esri is nurturing it. However, what’s available is only a small portion of that ever-growing national treasure trove upon which we, in the geospatial community and in other organizations focused on data-driven decision making, rely.

    If we spin backwards to the last US Government shutdown 17 years ago, the data, which we now so easily seek and eagerly use, were stored on CDs and tapes and shared in organizationally small ways—between colleagues, across a department. In 1996, the World Wide Web was still an embryonic creature. While it was possible to find Federal geodata, many times it was a crude cut and paste of content for massaging in a spreadsheet and more likely it was a request for data on digital media to be shipped via mail. It’s hard to even remember some of those details, but it is clear the value of the various data sets was seen then, and more and more content was being sought to support mission critical decision making.

    Return to last week. As I went to retrieve essential work-related data from the National Center for Education Statistics, and from my old agency, the Census Bureau, I was greeted with a “closed” sign—”Dear Users, due to a lapse of appropriations and the partial shutdown of the Federal Government, the systems that host have been shut down.” In a follow-on tour of other agency sites, like NOAA, NASA, the Forest Service, the CDC, and the USGS, I was presented with the equivalent of an “Error 404,” or “use as-is,” or limited services tied to protecting life and property.

    Thank goodness, we have avenues like ArcGIS Online for geographic content but it does not replace the huge number of curated and authoritative resources that I and countless other information workers and decision makers need now and every day. The 1996 shutdown lasted three weeks. I can’t even begin to imagine the untold damage such a protracted stalemate would have today. Whatever its length, my hope is that out of this fiasco more everyday people will begin to grasp the value and importance of the data we all count on, the Federal agencies that make the information a reality, and, most especially, the Federal workers whose job it is to collect, maintain, and disseminate these vital parts of our American life and our country’s future.

  2. cfrye says:

    Last Monday I found I could not access USGS, U.S. Census Bureau, or EPA data; and importantly the specific documentation about the data that helps me explain and justify its utility; I was more than annoyed. For those of us who use this data frequently, this partial shutdown of our government slows us down. For the many more people who would for the first time or infrequently use this information, it means operating without essential information because there is no other choice.

    Esri does not provide all of what has needed, mainly the data in a form that helps ArcGIS users get working faster. Esri documents the data with hyperlinks to the program websites with the vast majority of the documentation needed to support using government produced and provided data in a responsible, accountable, and professional way.

    In finding the data for the hyperlinks in the post, it was frankly humbling to realize what data was not available. Housing, energy, education, agriculture, climate, and over 99% of the rest of the data produced by our government that we have already paid for, and normally used daily by many people who work to improve numerous aspects of our lives, is not on ArcGIS Online.

    My thoughts on the way into the office this morning ran towards how uninformed our Congress seems to be with regard to all this data, why it is produced, and how their constituents benefit and avail themselves to it. Our system for delivering this data is inefficient and fragile. We have literally invested billions in this data and it, along with the tens of thousands of experts who produce it and help us use it wisely is being held hostage. That should not be possible, and I do not think it is what Congress intended. We need to take steps to safeguard our national endowment of information about our land, people, and way of life.

    • cindyfowler says:

      I know the shutdown was a problem for many users. As a government employee who has dedicated their career to improving data access, it was frustrating to see. That said, I’m not sure that a strategy of rehosting government data is the way to go either. First thing, removing data from its source comes with the added burden of how to access the most current version of an authoritative data set. Secondly, if Esri serves (and takes the credit) for a data source, there is the strong possibility that the funding could disappear for that agency to maintain and create new data. For example, one member of Congress claimed that they didn’t need federal weather data because they got all the information they needed from the Weather Channel. Little did they know that the Weather Channel would be off the air without federally-funded (NOAA) data.

      I strongly believe that a better strategy is improving the capability of federal agencies to share and maintain THEIR data, and educate Congress (and Senior government leaders) on the value that the federal data brings to the nation. Esri has already gone a long way to help in this area. A few additional items to assist data providers in documenting use (metrics) would go a long way to helping make the case for more funding for geospatial data.