The U. S. Geological Survey National Mapping Division (NMD) has been conducting research and development in digital cartography since the early seventies. Since 1977 there has been an acceleration of activities associated with establishing a National Digital Cartographic Data Base (NDCDB). The NMD Office of Research is primarily responsible for fundamental and applied research together with systems development and technical standards to support the digital cartographic program. Three phases of development have been defined - the current system, an optimum system that can be built with current technology, and a future system that could be defined after some basic research is completed. Some of the current projects related to automated data capture, editing, coding, and structuring are described together with a perspective on future directions. The overall rationale is to develop a very large integrated system that will support a NDCDB and lead toward operational geographic information systems.