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January 18th, 2016
Are geospatial outcomes tied to political candidates?

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It would be naive to think that there are no repercussions related to geospatial programs and research from the upcoming presidential elections. After all, the so-called “GoreSat” whole Earth-observing capacity was mothballed under George Bush’s first term and only became reality in Obama’s second term. In that same timeframe, however, we saw the rise of geospatial intelligence investment to support war efforts that created a geospatial economic engine the likes we’d never seen before.

Politics certainly plays a role in what gets funded, however, the winds of technology innovation often precede policy direction. Not only does innovation impact policy, but the need for innovation for the economy’s sake often ensures support regardless of political bent. Let’s explore some areas of impact and the push and pull of policy and innovation.

Geospatial Intelligence

The role of geospatial intelligence to avert threats in an increasingly unstable world is a capability that both parties can get behind. The demonstrated benefits of geospatial intelligence to achieve objectives more swiftly and with fewer resources is a fiscally responsible approach and a key component of our military’s global dominance.

Increasing investment for improved vigilance in light of many threats is likely regardless of the outcome. Threats in the Middle East and from rogue sympathizers here at home have had an unsettling effect on society. It will be interesting to see if terror attacks at home lead to further surveillance, particularly with the rise of unmanned aircraft systems and the wide area motion imagery capacity that could completely realign law enforcement.

Environmental Insight

The latest commitments to climate change policy has led to a renewed investment in environmental and atmospheric monitoring and insight into Earth systems science. The latest approved budget contained some significant increases in these areas with bipartisan support and compromises that made these investments happen.

It’s hard to imagine the global momentum for more monitoring going away, given the commitment of so many nations to understand and mitigate climate change. However, a conservative government in Canada and Australia did make significant cuts to science and research in natural resources and other areas in the recent past, including cuts in enforcement. With business backlash on EPA regulations growing in the U.S., the sentiment of overreach has become a conservative cause. The hope is that there’s a middle ground here that recognizes the importance of monitoring, mitigation and enforcement regardless of who wins.

Infrastructure Renewal

Our nation’s infrastructure got a much-needed long-term investment recently with the passing of the five-year FAST Act. More recently, the Obama administration has put forth a 2017 budget that would invest more than $4 billion on research into automated vehicles. The need to upgrade aging infrastructure and embrace the technology advancements of autonomous vehicles appear to have bipartisan backing.

Aging infrastructure is a problem that won’t go away, and as seen in the current drinking water debacle in Flint, Mich., it’s an area of considerable public backlash if its not taken seriously. With autonomous cars, the technology has advanced rapidly and is being embraced by automakers as a safer and more productive future. Both of these areas of investment play into the hands of geospatial technologies to capture our built environment in increasing detail and to provide systems to store and share this data in increasingly dynamic ways to aid automation.

Yes, politics will play a role in the winds of geospatial innovation and in the bottom lines of companies that provide both the technology and services. As outlined above, there appears to be considerable momentum to safeguard two of the three pillars of geospatial practice. As the campaign wears on, it will be interesting to see if candidates speak to some of these areas. Hopefully, they can keep from becoming politicized for the betterment of all.

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