Shortly after the new year, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) posted a request for information (RFI) called Tundra. The goal was to solicit feedback on how to make NGA more agile when purchasing commercial services, but the brief document was difficult to decipher.
It wasn’t long after the request was issued that Michael Geggus, NGA’s industry innovation advocate, started to hear grumbles.
“[The agency has] been hyper aware since [the GEOINT 2015 Symposium] that we have difficulty in how we communicate specific program acquisition processes,” Geggus said. “While we think we’re being plain in our language, we’re not. The Tundra RFI is a prime example.”
Tundra isn’t a unique anecdote of a government request frustrating the private sector. Often, NGA issues an unclassified RFI or request for proposal (RFP) that requires a security clearance to visit government facilities—even to get online to view and respond to the document. This means competitive materials are not accessible to many smaller or nontraditional companies. Geggus hopes to ensure the process remains secure at an appropriate level while promoting—rather than restricting—collaboration and fairness.
But he also recognizes the challenges in overhauling agency practices and that it’s particularly difficult to get all perspectives from the inside. As a result, Geggus welcomed the opportunity when government and industry veterans Jim Kwolek and Skip Maselli approached him in spring 2015 about creating an NGA Advisory Working Group (NAWG) at USGIF. The group would recommend ideas for improving the agency’s procurement processes.
“As [NGA’s] industry innovation advocate, I’m only as good as how much perspective I have access to from all the different folks outside the organization,” Geggus said. “More than anything else, it’s about understanding each other.”
Kwolek, vice president of strategic planning for NT Concepts, and Maselli, on the business development side of Raytheon Intelligence, Information & Services, have noticed challenges in how NGA communicates and presents the acquisition process to industry. Some examples they cited are a risk-averse culture, an understaffed and younger acquisition workforce, and substantial delays in procurement, which cost companies resources. By starting a dialogue and promoting cooperation, the NAWG suggested, government and industry could reduce risk, cost, and unnecessary award protest while also incentivizing innovation. Ultimately, the group said, these changes would lead to better NGA customer service and improved national security.
“NGA isn’t necessarily doing anything wrong,” Maselli said, “but there are ways of doing things better.”
The working group charter was approved by USGIF in August 2015, and in September co-chairs Kwolek and Maselli held the group’s first meeting. NAWG members come from about 50 small, medium, and large companies and also include 10 independent consultants who conduct business with NGA. The group’s charter not only addresses the cultural differences between government and industry but also the nuances between NGA’s traditional acquisition process and emerging agile acquisition processes found in the commercial sector.
The working group meets monthly and has created sub-working groups in the areas of procurement communication, innovation, business size, security, and clarity and efficiency. The NAWG is this year planning to organize a mock acquisition with NGA. During this day-long event, industry and government will gather and play out the various parts of an acquisition—from the establishment of an RFP to the award of a contract, followed by a protest. A moderator will run the event, and all topics covered by the sub-working groups will be addressed.
“Rather than thinking of acquisition as a one-way street or as simply an exchange of products or services, we’re trying to make it more of a two-way street,” Geggus said.
While NGA is known for seeking industry feedback, Geggus described the group as a neutral zone for sharing such insights and consolidating them to provide clear recommendations to the agency.
“It’s a safe environment of sharing in a really constructive way,” Geggus said. “Sometimes problems get solved just in talking between partners.”
Geggus acknowledges it will take time for the group’s recommendations to yield a new way of doing business but said its mission aligns with NGA Director Robert Cardillo’s messages of communication, culture, and transparency.
Kwolek looks forward to the group promoting more openness within the Community.
“We want to create empathy on both sides,” Kwolek said. “The goal is increasing transparency between government and industry.”