The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) initiated work on the standard in June, 1992, through a forum on geospatial metadata. At the forum, the participants agreed on the need for a standard on the information content of metadata about geospatial data. The committee accepted the offer of ASTM (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) Section D18.01.05 to develop a draft information content standard. This draft was slightly revised, and offered for public review from October 1992 to April 1993. Extensive comments were received from the public. The FGDC's Standards Working Group revised the draft. The revised draft was provided for further review and testing in July 1993. Refined drafts were offered for review and testing in January and March 1994.
The major uses of metadata are:
Executive Order 12906, "Coordinating Geographic Data Acquisition and Access: The National Spatial Data Infrastructure," was signed on April 11, 1994, by President William Clinton. Section 3, Development of a National Geospatial Data Clearinghouse, paragraph (b) states: "Standardized Documentation of Data. Beginning 9 months from the date of this order, each agency shall document all new geospatial data it collects or produces, either directly or indirectly, using the standard under development by the FGDC, and make that standardized documentation electronically accessible to the Clearinghouse network. Within 1 year of the date of this order, agencies shall adopt a schedule, developed in consultation with the FGDC, for documenting, to the extent practicable, geospatial data previously collected or produced, either directly or indirectly, and making that data documentation electronically accessible to the Clearinghouse network." This standard is the data documentation standard referenced in the executive order.
In addition to use by the Federal Government, the FGDC invites and encourages organizations and persons from State, local, and tribal governments, the private sector, and non-profit organizations to use the standard to document their geospatial data. A major difficulty in the geospatial data community is the lack of information that helps prospective users to determine what data exist, the fitness of existing data for planned applications, and the conditions for accessing existing data, and to transfer data to a user's system. This standard, developed with aid of broad public participation, will help to ease these problems and to develop the National Spatial Data Infrastructure.
The standard was developed from the perspective of defining the information required by a prospective user to determine the availability of a set of geospatial data, to determine the fitness the set of geospatial data for an intended use, to determine the means of accessing the set of geospatial data, and to successfully transfer the set of geospatial data. As such, the standard establishes the names of data elements and compound elements to be used for these purposes, the definitions of these data elements and compound elements, and information about the values that are to be provided for the data elements. The standard does not specify the means by which this information is organized in a computer system or in a data transfer, nor the means by which this information is transmitted, communicated, or presented to the user.
The variety of means of organizing data in a computer, the differences among data providers to describe their data holdings because of varying institutional and technical capabilities, the rapid evolution of means to provide information through the Internet for different purposes, and the need to accommodate existing standards have guided the evolution of this decision. The FGDC is pursuing several implementation methods.