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March 18th, 2013
How is the sequester likely to impact the geospatial industry?

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Now that congress has failed to act, and the sequester has gone into affect, there is a good deal of belt tightening taking place in Washington, with little details yet on what the full scope of impacts might mean with across the board cuts of 8 percent or more for key agencies. Given that government at all levels form the backbone of geospatial industry support, it’s clear that there will be an impact on jobs and contractors. At the end of last week, the most visible cutback took place with the cancellation of the National Map Users Conference by the U.S. Geological Survey, but that cut couldn’t have meant that much in dollars compared to the paring back that will be needed if funds aren’t released.

Since the geospatial industry spans so many domains, and there isn’t a central industry advocacy group, there hasn’t been much in the way of centralized protest to the sequester as contrasted by efforts such as the Aerospace Industries Association. With $85 billion needing to be cut from the budget for the remainder of the Federal fiscal year, there will indeed be more painful fallout coming soon. We’re already seeing talks of layoffs, furloughs and canceled events, following are some additional areas and indications of impact.

Monitoring Gaps

Among the early warnings about the fallout from the sequester was the impact on the earth observation capacity of NASA and NOAA, which oversee monitoring, weather forecasts and warnings about severe weather. Sequestration would mean an 8.2 percent cut across each agency budget, and further cuts over the next eight years. Weather monitoring and forecasting is likely to be the highest profile hit, because there’s already a gap in capacity, although recent senate budget activity would cushion specifically for this polar weather observation gap.

The U.S. Geological Survey has indicated that they will discontinue operation of 375 streamgages nationwide due to the budget cuts. This real-time streamflow information has gone through an automated transformation of late, with the data readily available to everyone with access to Internet or text. However, without the funds to monitor and maintain these stations, the flood forecasting and monitoring capacity will be sharply impacted with data gaps.

Science Stagnation

With billions of dollars cut to the national laboratories, and basic research, scientific innovation is sure to be hurt. The worry is that not only will new research be cut, but that significant ongoing programs will be interrupted or halted, all but losing the investment with inconclusive scientific results to date for many areas of investigation.

The National Science Foundation will see $586 million in cuts to its $7.14 billion budget, and they have announced plans to cut back on 1,000 new research grants that it planned to award. On the cutting block also are supercomputing infrastructure investments that impact the efficiency of current projects. No word yet on specific cuts to the geography and spatial sciences strategic plan. While many science endeavors won’t be impacted, new ideas and the hiring of the next generation will mean an uncertain future.

Business Uncertainty

The DOD has estimated that the sequester means a 20% cut in DOD funding over the next 20 years, and $500 billion to hit the Pentagon. Among the significant collateral impacts of sequestration are to the small businesses, integrators and contractors, and particularly those serving the geospatial intelligence community.

The primary unsettling factor for all companies serving the government is the uncertainty they face with the large and ongoing cuts, and the government’s inability to make long-range plans. There are going to be huge impacts to innovation as a result, and perhaps even to investments in companies in our space that rely largely on these markets.

The next deadline for resolution is coming quickly with the continuing resolution for funding federal agencies set to expire on March 27. The USGS National Map event is just a small pebble in the pond that is rippling outward. Now with furloughs on the table for many federal employees, we’re made to immediately wonder what the implications are for upcoming industry initiatives and events should the sequestration continue.

Potential Job Loss Tallies

  • George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis economist Dr. Stephen Fuller estimated that sequestration will put at risk 2.14 million jobs in 2013 alone
  • Warnings of more than 20,000 jobs lost at NASA, 2,500 jobs at NOAA
  • General Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, laments a 13 percent cut this year, with thousands of FBI personnel likely furloughed, and more than 5,000 contractors let go.
  • At the DOD, the Pentagon’s 800,000-strong civilian workforce could be furloughed, followed by forced retirement and other personnel actions.


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