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New Chief Geographer For Nation’s Largest Civilian Mapping Agency
Released: 7/28/1997

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Karen Wood 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-4460

Gordon Eaton, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), announced today (July 28, 1997), that Richard E. Witmer will serve as Chief Geographer and Chief of the USGS National Mapping Division.

Dr. Witmer, who has been serving as the acting chief of the National Mapping Division, will head the nation’s largest civilian mapping program, responsible for providing geographic, cartographic, and remotely sensed information, maps, and technical assistance, and conducting related research in response to national and local needs.

"Dick Witmer has demonstrated outstanding leadership and management capabilities over the last 23 years," said Dr. Eaton. "His extensive background and expertise in USGS mapping programs and activities, along with his vision for the future, will help lead the revolution in meeting the national needs for basic cartographic and geographic spatial data."

The National Mapping Division is composed of approximately 1,400 full-time, part-time, and temporary government staff in six principal offices across the country. In addition, the division uses about 400 contract employees to help in carrying out its activities. Over the past 30 years the work has evolved from producing hand-engraved topographic maps to providing largely computer-based information using rapidly advancing technology such as geographic information systems. Although printed maps are still in high demand, the need for computer-based geospatial data is increasing. Each year the USGS sells and distributes more than three million copies of more than 80,000 different maps to a wide range of users. During major natural disasters, for example, the USGS must be ready to print and supply maps needed by rescue and recovery teams.

Witmer joined the USGS in 1974 as a physical scientist, serving as the Geography Program coordinator responsible for supervision of geographic research projects and interactions with other Federal and state agencies. He later went on to serve as the Chief of the Office of Geographic and Cartographic Research before moving into the senior leadership of the National Mapping Division.

He has played a leadership role in revamping and revitalizing access and technical assistance in the use of national classified assets to other federal agencies, and has helped facilitate the Congressionally mandated study of U.S. Geographic Information Resources currently being conducted by the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping and the National Academy of Public Administration. He is also responsible for the USGS being the first federal agency to join the Open GIS Consortium, a non-profit organization dedicated to open systems interoperability, which now includes more than 100 national and international companies, government agencies, and academic institutions.

Witmer holds an undergraduate degree in physics and mathematics (1962), and a master’s degree (1964) and doctorate (1967) in geography and geology from the University of Florida. He is a member of the Association of American Geographers and the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, having held various positions in those organizations during his career. He is also a member of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping. Witmer has been awarded the Department of the Interior’s two highest awards, the Meritorious and Distinguished Service Awards.

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