A Strategic Review of the operations of Geoscience Australia (GA) has recommended that the agency seek out extra funding from the Commonwealth to finance its role as a custodian, as well as collector, of vast amounts of the nation’s geoscientific and spatial data.
The review, which was conducted by the Department of Finance and Deregulation and released on 10 May, was triggered by concerns about the potential for future funding shortfalls that would put the agency under serious financial pressure. This could require the agency’s workforce be reduced by half.
Much of the agency’s resourcing comes from temporary budget funding and external funding sources and expiration of a number of these one-off funding measures in 2010-11 would have created a funding shortfall for the agency.
In response, the Government provided a further temporary funding allocation of $65.3 million over four years to support the agency, but the agency still requires a permanent solution. As a result, the review was conducted and has recommended that funding for GA be reviewed in light of the value of its functions to industry and to government.
“The Review recommends that [the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism] and GA prepare for consideration in the 2012-13 budget context a submission to Government on funding continued investment in pre-competitive information, including ongoing management of data and data access,” said the document.
The review identified a discrepancy between the one-off nature of the agency’s funding, and the increasing quantity of data it is expected to archive and make available for future use by other governments and agencies.
“GA is the custodian, on behalf of the Australian Government, of a range of geoscientific and geospatial data that has been accumulated over 60 years,” said the Review.
“Much of GA’s funding, through which data is being acquired, is in the form of terminating programs or discrete, one-off Section 31 funded projects. As such the funding does not cover the ongoing costs for the custodial and stewardship activities associated with the data obtained,” it said.
In light of this recommendation, it is likely that a significant proportion any new funding allocated to the agency would be spent on ICT capability, including storage and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and support for these functions.
ICT plays a key role at GA, with Intermedium’s2009-10 Annual Market Overview Report showing that the agency’s annual ICT contract total for that financial year was $25.8 million. Its total resourcing (including revenue) for the same financial year was $179.3 million.
The Strategic Review lists the agency’s 2008-09 ICT expenditure as $25.3 million, with $9 million of this going towards applications development.
The Strategic Review documents also provide insight into the ICT environment at the agency.
Unsurprisingly, GIS software is singled out as playing a central role at the agency.
“GA is a heavy user of Geographic Information System (GIS) software, as the great majority of its data holdings have geospatial elements and are best presented in a geospatial context,” says the Review.
Another characteristic of the ICT environment at GA is its high availability expectations. For example, its Australian Tsunami Warning System and Sentinel bushfire mapping system need to be operational 24 hours a day, with severe public consequences attached to their failure. Even temporary malfunctions in GA’s other core systems would result in gaps in the data products it is tasked with creating.
Another recommendation made by the Strategic Review is the establishment of a central policy centre to direct the creation and management of spatial data at a whole-of-government level, with GA providing technical and data support as appropriate.
The spatial data authority would absorb the functions of the Office of Spatial Data Management, and would most likely be located within the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.