A Team Sport

NGA Director Robert Cardillo Discusses Transparency

By Lindsay Tilton Mitchell

Feb. 1, 2017

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) commitment to transparency has helped advance public awareness of geospatial intelligence and led to many new partnerships, according to NGA Director Robert Cardillo.

Cardillo participated in a Q&A session co-hosted by the Atlantic Council and Thomson Reuters in January as part of the council’s “Power of Transparency” series. The director spoke with moderator John Walcott, Reuters’ foreign policy and national security editor, in a presentation titled “The Power of Transparency in Advancing Geospatial Intelligence.”

“[NGA is] striving to be more effective and relevant in the open in a way that’s meaningful to those we serve inside and outside the government,” Cardillo said.

With the agency celebrating its 20th anniversary last year, Cardillo explained how its mission has expanded beyond traditional GEOINT into areas such as humanitarian relief, disaster response, land reclamation, historic preservation, and security for special events—most recently assisting the Department of Homeland Security with the Presidential Inauguration. Cardillo cited examples of how the agency supported the 2015 Ebola epidemic, the 2015 Nepal earthquake, and continues to provide satellite-based elevation data maps of Alaska and the Arctic.

“We’ve always served the military, government, and industry partners, but more and more we’re creating new connections—new interdependencies such as international partners, academic partners, think tanks, and the public,” the director said.

Cardillo also spoke about NGA’s many strong industry partnerships, including its recent contract with Planet to collect imagery of the Earth every day.

“We have great, interdependent relationships with U.S. companies that provide us services and support,” Cardillo said. “I do think there can be a new paradigm of public-private partnership. In that partnership I imagine I can find a way to expose data—historic and otherwise—that can inform additional scientific understanding of planetary changes, ecological, environmental, etc. But also historic research that might inform a new series of deep learning and automated intelligence."

Cardillo concluded the conversation with a discussion of NGA’s Commercial Initiative to Buy Operationally Responsive GEOINT (CIBORG) program, a new contract vehicle with the General Services Administration. Through the CIBORG vehicle both companies new to the agency and those with established relationships can register their services to provide imagery and geospatial intelligence products for NGA.

“Let’s face it, the business I’m in is commoditized,” Cardillo said. “I can buy an image off the web. CIBORG does that, but in a more efficient way.”