California GIO: Geography offers a ‘common language’ for government

California Geographic Information Officer Scott Gregory is using GIS data to help the state take on some of its biggest challenges, like the ongoing drought.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Can GIS throw drought-stricken California a life preserver?

California Geographic Information Officer Scott Gregory thinks it can. Working with the state’s Department of Water Resources, Gregory helped create a new app that allows citizens to tattle on water wasters. Users can take a geo-located snapshot of the offense and upload it to a platform that notifies local authorities.

Since the app debuted, the state has received more than 5,000 reports of water waste, Gregory said. The project demonstrates how GIS can help solve statewide problems.

“If there’s a common language in government, it’s geography,” Gregory recently told StateScoop in his Sacramento office. “That’s the common language that we speak. Most government data that we manage has a geographic component to it.”


GIS, short for geographic information systems, is a system that gathers and displays data from the Earth’s surface. Increasingly, state government are turning to GIS specialists to tackle challenges from bird flu to wildfires. And in California, Gregory has pressed to make that information more public. 

Currently, Gregory is involved in the state’s open data movement and is working to integrate existing open data into an online platform. It’s an effort to increase transparency of geographic data within the government. Under efforts led by the Department of Technology, California will see “huge movement” around open data in the next six months, Gregory said. Already, California is one of the first states to rally around the open data movement.

As GIO for the Department of Technology, Gregory manages the state’s GIS infrastructure and looks at the state’s geo-coding policies to help departments make their data more map-able. Gregory does not have a distinct budget, but rather he receives service funds that allow him to develop apps and other forms of technology. He comes to the job after spending five years in the Army Corps of Engineers, where he managed primarily military projects and supported the initial push into Iraq in 2003.

Gregory, who has overseen the state’s GIS program for the last five years, collaborates with different departments and agencies across state government to help them with decision-making.

“We’re constantly working with these different entities to make sure we have the most up to date and relevant information,” Gregory said.

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