Intelligence – Trajectory Magazine We are the official publication of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) – the nonprofit, educational organization supporting the geospatial intelligence tradecraft Fri, 19 Jan 2018 19:39:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Intelligence – Trajectory Magazine 32 32 127732085 Army GEOINT: A Team Sport Tue, 16 Jan 2018 18:39:05 +0000 Army GEOINT leaders share their missions at GEOINTeraction Tuesday

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A variety of organizations dispersed throughout the nation’s capital and the world provide geospatial intelligence to the U.S. Army, and attendees at USGIF’s GEOINTeraction Tuesday event Jan. 9 heard from the leaders of four of these offices and components.

In a presentation titled “Army GEOINT: A Team Sport”—held in Tysons, Va., and sponsored by Altamira—approximately 100 attendees learned about the different roles and interconnectedness of organizations within the Army GEOINT enterprise.

Speakers included Collin Agee, senior army operations advisor to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) for the Army GEOINT Office (AGO); Col. Loren Traugutt, chief of the Army NGA Support Team (NST); Lt. Col. Jacquelyn Barcomb, commander of the Army GEOINT Battalion (AGB); and Dr. Joseph Fontanella, director of the Army Geospatial Center (AGC).

The Army GEOINT Office

Collin Agee, senior army operations advisor to NGA for the Army GEOINT Office

Agee, who was initially invited to speak, said he realized it wouldn’t be possible to talk about Army GEOINT alone, and thus invited the others to join him. Though the AGO is located at NGA Campus East (NCE) in Springfield, Va., Agee reports to Army G-2 at the Pentagon. He described the Army’s “sobering” task to recently turn its attention more toward North Korea after about 16 years of a strong counterinsurgency mission.

“We read in the papers just about every day that [North Korea is] a growing nuclear threat. But they also have a very large standing army, which is dominated by artillery …” Agee went on to mention the difficult mountainous terrain, the nearby massive urban areas south of the DMZ, locations of potential military targets, and various GEOINT products that could be used to monitor the north, maintain situational awareness, and respond if necessary.

The AGO includes about 16 to 18 people on a given day, receives much of its manning from the Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), and works with myriad partners, according to Agee.

The Army NGA Support Team

Traugutt described how his NST (one of about 25 at NGA) reports to NGA Director Robert Cardillo in support of the Army. Spread across 13 U.S. locations, the Army NST includes about 25 active-duty soldiers and NGA civilians who are embedded and deploy with their corresponding units.

Traugutt said his priorities for the year ahead are to continue to support the warfighter within Army Forces Command and all divisions as they deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the world.

“I’m also looking at starting to expand to other Army units that aren’t just in CONUS,” Traugutt said, citing Hawaii, Korea, and Europe as areas of interest.

The Army GEOINT Battalion

Though it is also has a presence at NCE, the AGB differs from the NGA Support Teams in that it receives tasking from the Army.

Lt. Col. Jacquelyn Barcomb, commander of the Army GEOINT Battalion

“The Army is the only service that has an operational command located within NGA, and that’s AGB,” Barcomb said. “It’s a point of pride for us.”

She added the AGB’s higher headquarters is the National Ground Intelligence Center in Charlottesville, Va., which is part of INSCOM. The AGB has about 200 employees—approximately 60 percent civilian and 40 percent military.

“GEOINT is underrepresented in the Army and part of that is an educational process,” Barcomb said. “Most of the time when you talk about GEOINT to commanders and other Army folks they think, ‘Okay, GEOINT, that means you can make me a map or you can get me a picture, right?’ [We educate] that we don’t want them asking their GEOINT folks to give them products, we want them to use their GEOINT folks to solve problems.”

The Army Geospatial Center

The AGC falls under the Army Corps of Engineers and comprises about 300 government employees and 400 contractors deployed in eight nations and at four combatant commands, according to Fontanella. AGC includes three program areas: warfighter and operational support, systems and systems acquisition support, and research and development.

For warfighter and operational support, AGC focuses on terrain analysis, high-resolution 3D mapping, and hydrology. For example, AGC helps Army well drilling units achieve a first-time success rate of about 95 percent, and AGC’s Buckeye 3D mapping program has collected more than 1.3 million square kilometers of data in the past 13 years. AGC’s systems and systems acquisition support ties back to the principle of an Army geospatial enterprise, and Fontanella summarized it as figuring out “how the 186 systems in the Army [that consume or produce GEOINT] are going to share in a seamless manner.”

The Army geospatial enterprise and the need for a common understanding of the battle space is AGC’s coordinating principle.

“We bring all this capability—people, technology, processes, governance—and deliver what we call a standard and shareable geospatial foundation,” Fontanella said. “That means we’re all operating off of the same data. The same elevation data, imagery, topographic feature data—everybody, in every place.”

Photo Credits: Altamira

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Rochester’s Remote Sensing History Fri, 10 Nov 2017 20:52:18 +0000 Kodak’s long-secret intelligence legacy carries on at Harris Corp.

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Not many people—particularly younger generations of geospatial intelligence professionals—are familiar with remote sensing’s roots in Rochester, N.Y.

Dr. Bob Fiete, chief technologist and fellow with Harris Corporation’s Space and Intelligence Systems business, recently gave a presentation on the city’s remote sensing history to students at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and shared his research with trajectory.

One of the first aerial night photographs, captured by George W. Goddard over Rochester, N.Y., in 1925. Courtesy of Defense Visual Information Center.

Few people also realize the legacy of Harris’ space business is traced to Kodak—a longtime Rochester institution. Fiete just celebrated his 30th anniversary at Harris, but began his career with Kodak’s Remote Sensing Systems Group, which today is part of Harris Corporation.

Fiete began gathering information on the city’s remote sensing past shortly after the Harris acquisition, with the goal to introduce new colleagues who were experts in communications systems to the world and history of imaging systems.

Kodak first revolutionized reconnaissance with its invention of roll film in 1884. Eliminating the need for heavy, glass plates allowed for the development of smaller, lighter cameras. This in turned allowed military operators to transition from taking cameras up in hot air balloons to sending them up on kites—with explosives to trigger the shutter. The first cameras were fastened to rockets as early as 1897, and in 1904 the gyroscopically stabilized camera, which is still used today in some satellites, was invented to reduce motion blurring.

Kodak’s K-1 camera, designed for use in WWI. Courtesy of Defense Visual Information Center.

1909 marked the first documented aerial photograph from an airplane, taken by Wilbur Wright, but the first use of airborne surveillance and reconnaissance occurred during World War I, when Kodak K-1 cameras were attached to the side of planes to map trench networks. During World War II, Kodak miniaturized the F24, built by Fairchild, to create the K-24 camera.

In 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik during the Cold War, the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) began to ask, “If we put a camera on a satellite how are we going to get the film back to Earth?” The CIA took on this challenge in 1960 with CORONA, the nation’s first photo reconnaissance satellite. CORONA was equipped with a film bucket that would return the film to Earth for capture via plane. Later CORONA satellites had two film buckets, with the first bucket recovery typically occurring within the first week from launch, and the second bucket recovered the following week before the satellite was decommissioned.

Imagery analysts gave first assessments of CORONA’s film as it was developed at Kodak’s Hawkeye facility—known as “Bridgehead” in the IC for its location adjacent to a bridge over the Genesee River—which became the first imaging ground station for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). It wasn’t until the existence of Bridgehead and several NRO programs were declassified in 2011 that many Kodak employees could finally tell their family and friends they’d actually been working on intelligence programs all those years.

In the early 1960s, Kodak developed a satellite camera system for the SAMOS program that would develop the film onboard, then scan the images for electronic transmission back to Earth in order to get them in front of analyst’s eyes sooner. The program was short-lived because the system proved inadequate for reconnaissance, but the technology turned out to be just what NASA sought for its Lunar Orbiter camera in order to image the lunar landing sites for the Apollo program.

When NRO launched the GAMBIT 1 and 3 satellites in 1963 and 1966, respectively, Kodak for the first time supplied not just the film, but also the satellite’s cameras. While GAMBIT provided focused imagery at a higher resolution, the HEXAGON satellite was launched in 1971—using Kodak film but not a Kodak camera—to cover wider areas at lower resolution. Together, the satellites “became America’s eyes in space,” according to the NRO.

From 1965 to 1969, the U.S. pursued development of the DORIAN Manned Orbiting Laboratory—which aimed to place a manned surveillance satellite in orbit. Though the program was canceled in 1969 before a manned vehicle was ever launched, its spending totaled $1.56 billion. Having been tasked to build the DORIAN camera, the program resulted in a large optics manufacturing capability for Kodak, which would later enable the company to develop commercial satellite cameras as Harris still does today.

After President Clinton approved the sale of 1-meter resolution commercial satellite imagery in 1994, Lockheed Martin contracted Kodak to build the camera for the IKONOS satellite. In 1999, IKONOS produced the first commercial, high-resolution, color digital images from space. Since then, the commercial remote sensing industry has grown exponentially, with companies now permitted to sell imagery at 0.25-meter resolution. Harris imaging systems, building upon the Kodak legacy, now fly on most large commercial satellites, including all of DigitalGlobe’s WorldView systems and the first GOES-R advanced weather satellite launched by NASA and NOAA in 2016. The company is moving into the small satellite arena as well.

According to Fiete, Rochester is experiencing an imaging science renaissance, and Harris is fortunate to partner with the city’s many universities, including the Center for Imaging Science at RIT and the Institute of Optics as well as the Goergen Institute for Data Sciences at the University of Rochester.

Harris is currently pursuing research and development efforts such as how to build better space optics—or how to make camera systems lighter while maintaining high image quality. The company is also interested in accelerating development, as it typically takes three years from start to launch to construct an imaging system.

Another key initiative for the company is image chain modeling that allows a computer to simulate the process that creates the image—in other words, allows Harris to see the images a camera would take and understand their quality before the camera is even built.

Looking forward, Harris aims to build data analytics directly into its platforms, according to Fiete.

“The key today is people don’t just want a camera that provides an image,” he concluded. “They want a camera that gives them the necessary data for making informed decisions.”

Featured image: Kodak’s Hawkeye facility, which was known as “Bridgehead” in classified circles. Photo Credit: R.D. Sherwood and J. Sherwood

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Geospatial Growth in St. Louis Tue, 07 Nov 2017 20:49:27 +0000 USGIF convenes government, industry, academia, and community leaders for two days of discussion, technology demos, and networking in St. Louis

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The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) hosted a series of events in St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 16-18, bringing together representatives from government, industry, and academia to discuss the many opportunities presented by the city’s growing GEOINT industry and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) planned new campus in North St. Louis.

On Oct. 16, USGIF’s Young Professionals Group (YPG) hosted a Tech Talk titled “The Road to Sub-Meter Digital Elevation Modeled Surfaces” at T-REX—a nonprofit technology incubator in downtown St. Louis. Tom Creel, Ph.D., NGA’s SFN Technical Executive, and Scott J. Spaunhorst, chief of NGA’s geosciences division, discussed the future of high-resolution 3D terrain within foundation GEOINT. The talk was followed by a networking reception.

Data Centricity

The following day at T-REX, the Foundation hosted an unclassified Technology Cluster Forum, at which more than 230 attendees viewed several panel discussions, industry flash talks, and a keynote by Justin Poole, NGA’s new deputy director.

Poole said there would be many “promising opportunities for partnerships” with NGA in the coming months as the agency shifts toward a data-centric business model and continues to explore new analytic tradecraft such as high-performance computing and deep learning.

“We’re changing the way we bring in data, and we’re changing the way we use data,” Poole said. “Our traditional way of getting data—collecting pixels across a largely disconnected government system—will no longer meet the needs of our customer moving forward.”

He elaborated that the agency must move from pixels to services, and beyond tasking and collection to “brokering”—finding and acquiring content that agency customers need.

Poole also said the agency will continue to implement structured observation management and object-based production, while embracing high-performance computing and deep learning—all methods to ensure data is sharable, discoverable, and ingestible by analytic models. Poole also emphasized the need for “GEOINT assurance” to safeguard the integrity of pixels, data, algorithms, and the resulting artificial intelligence.

NGA aims to automate 75 percent of its processes to free up analysts to conduct deeper analysis, for which desktop-ready capabilities will be needed to help rapidly visualize and integrate diverse data types.

Regional Innovation

The Technology Cluster Forum featured afternoon panels on St. Louis-based innovation as well as the city’s GEOINT career pipeline.

Patricia Hagen, Ph.D., president and executive director of T-REX, moderated the panel on St.-Louis-based innovation. Hagen pointed to the fact that today’s startup rate for new businesses is roughly half what it was in the 1980s, despite current tech startup trends.

“New job creation comes from new companies, so [entrepreneurship] is really important for cities. … St. Louis is succeeding around entrepreneurship and has been recognized nationally for these efforts,” she said.

Jeff Mazur, executive director of LaunchCode—a nonprofit founded in St. Louis that provides technology jobseekers with accessible education, training, and paid apprenticeship job placement—said the organization has recently moved into the geospatial marketplace and gained new partners such as NGA and Boundless.

LaunchCode is developing a new curriculum around geospatial skills and aims to place 170 people as developers at NGA in the next few years, Mazur said.

The intent is to provide “new people a new pathway to tech jobs” that are going to be available at the Next NGA West (N2W) facility.

Kenneth Olliff, vice president for research at Saint Louis University (SLU), said he was attracted to the university because of the potential that exists in the St. Louis region. Olliff now aims to make SLU the No. 1 Jesuit research university in the country.

“Geospatial is a big thing we’re looking at right now—assets across the entire university such as disaster management, human behavior, robot interaction,” Olliff said. “We want to pull the entire university together to be a one-stop shop for NGA and other industry partners working with geospatial; to mobilize the human capital we have and through partnerships make a real contribution to the region.”

Boundless CEO Andy Dearing, co-chair of USGIF’s St. Louis Area Working Group (SLAWG), moderated the discussion of the city’s career pipeline. Dearing encouraged attendees, especially those who live and work in the St. Louis area, to join the group, which brings together professionals from government, military, industry, academia, and the community to create lasting educational and community pathways to geospatial degrees, certifications, and careers in the St. Louis region.

The Next NGA West

Pollmann and Gum. Credit: NGA

The unclassified day concluded with an update from NGA’s N2W Program Director Sue Pollmann and Scott Gum, the agency’s assistant program manager for information technology.

Pollmann said site clearing in North St. Louis is going well and that her team’s current focus is compiling design-build performance requirements into a request for proposals (RFP). The agency has already down-selected to three design-build teams, who will receive the RFP in January with a final contract award targeted for fall 2018. Pollmann added she hopes “shovels will be in the ground” by spring 2019.

Pollmann and Gum both said NGA aspires for the new facility to have plenty of unclassified space to welcome partners and academia, flexible workspaces that can be quickly converted from unclassified to SCIF, and mobile, wireless capabilities throughout.

“We plan to have a bring-your-own-device capability so you can bring your [mobile] device, have it there, and use it,” Pollmann said. “That’s another pretty big sea change for us. The other piece of flexibility is in how we work. … We know it is important in terms of recruitment and retention. We want to give employees options to go to different areas of the building.”

Scott said his goal is to keep up with changing requirements to ensure employee and user capability needs are met when the new facility opens.

“Whatever IT call is made today isn’t going to stand the test of time in five to seven years,” he said.

The Technology Forum concluded with a networking reception at T-REX.

On Oct. 18, USGIF hosted NGA Tech Showcase West at NGA’s current Second Street facility. The classified day was attended by more than 130 people and featured remarks by Poole, followed by a series of technology demos that provided attendees a first-hand look at the work of analysts in St. Louis. The series of events closed with a reception at the Anheuser-Busch Beer Museum.

To learn more about USGIF’s St. Louis initiatives or to get involved, email the SLAWG at

Featured image: NGA Deputy Director Justin Poole gives a keynote address. Credit: NGA

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Erin Manth: An Intelligence Career in the Making Wed, 01 Nov 2017 14:50:27 +0000 2017 USGIF Scholarship winner applies GEOINT to national security

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With an affinity for current events, history, international affairs, and geography, intelligence analysis was a natural career choice for Erin Manth, who is earning a bachelor’s degree in intelligence studies. Manth, a student at Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania, is one of 26 recipients under USGIF’s 2017 Scholarship Program.

“Winning the USGIF Scholarship is a great honor and opportunity,” Manth said. “USGIF offers the unmatched opportunity to be part of a wide network of GEOINT professionals. I appreciate the chance to further my understanding of GEOINT through the opportunity to attend the GEOINT Symposium. The scholarship will aid in funding my final semester at Mercyhurst and contribute to other scholastic experiences as I move toward graduation.”

Manth’s interest lies in applying GEOINT to national security and humanitarian response, specifically in the Middle East and North Africa. In spring 2017, Manth studied abroad in Morocco, where she was able to improve her Arabic language skills and cultural understanding.

“It allowed me to see the human element in a diverse society and achieve better understanding of the people that live in the different regions I study,” Manth said.

Manth has participated in various activities on campus related to her studies. She is a member of the National Security Club and a student volunteer for Mercyhurst’s Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Cell, which works with a non-governmental organization to provide analysis and research. Manth also works for the university’s Center for Intelligence Research and Training, a research arm of Mercyhurst’s intelligence program. Her team is working on a project for the U.S. Army War College examining Syria’s stability through map creation.

This summer, Manth completed a second internship with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) as an imagery analysis intern. At NGA, Manth improved her GEOINT skills as well as her intelligence writing and briefing skills. The mentorship while at the agency was one of her favorite aspects of the experience.

“Throughout my internship, I was fortunate to have multiple amazing mentors who have encouraged, inspired, and guided me throughout my professional development in GEOINT.”

Manth graduates in December and hopes to get her first job in the Intelligence Community.

Photo Credit: Erin Manth

Return to feature story: The Next Generation of GEOINTers

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Mission First Wed, 01 Nov 2017 14:45:30 +0000 Q&A with Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Robert “Rosie” A. Rosenberg, former director of the Defense Mapping Agency

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Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Robert “Rosie” A. Rosenberg Photo Slideshow

[See image gallery at]

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Robert “Rosie” A. Rosenberg served 30 years in the U.S. Air Force and was instrumental in the U.S. satellite program. He participated in the initial development, testing, and launch of what became National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite systems, later serving as mission controller of on orbit reconnaissance satellites. He also served as acting director of the NRO staff, and then was intelligence and space policy advisor on the National Security Council. Rosenberg was director of the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA), a predecessor to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), from 1985 to 1987. During his tenure as director, Rosenberg made DMA essential to the success of the nation’s military operations capabilities. At the GEOINT 2017 Symposium, USGIF named Rosenberg the recipient of its Arthur C. Lundahl-Thomas C. Finnie Lifetime Achievement Award.

Q: How did you get involved in GEOINT and what do you consider some of your most significant contributions to the tradecraft?

I got into this business almost 60 years ago. At the beginning of the Cold War the world was a frightening place. Knowing what went on behind the Iron Curtain was critical to our survival. President Eisenhower was concerned—was there really a capability gap? Or was the military industrial complex driving us into an arms race? With the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik and later its shoot down of an American U-2 spy plane, Eisenhower had no choice but to establish NRO to put reconnaissance satellites into space. We were being denied the ability to fly reconnaissance aircraft over the Soviet Union.

I was lucky to be there at the start of NRO. From ’58 to ’62, I was involved in factory testing and launching of the Samos, Midas, and Corona reconnaissance satellites. From ’64 to ’68, I was the mission controller for both the Corona and Gambit reconnaissance satellites. It was my responsibility to respond to the targeting requirements from the Intelligence Community (IC) and make sure we got cloud-free pictures of the Soviet Union. We were limited on how many pictures we could get because we used film. I did many things to establish highly efficient imagery collection to maximize the number of highest value photos on each mission.

In ’71, I was responsible for developing Hexagon satellite mission planning and command and control software based on the experiences I had in both Gambit targeting and mission control for the Corona system. Hexagon permitted us to dramatically improve our ability to rapidly cover and revisit vast areas of the communist world at a resolution previously not thought possible.

I was pulled into the NRO staff in Washington from ’73 to ’75. My contribution there included making sure DMA mission requirements were supported—while many at the time didn’t think this was important.

I moved on to the National Security Council (NSC) staff under both Presidents Ford and Carter, where I was the intelligence and space policy officer. While there, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI)—in wanting to make himself look good with Carter, who wanted to reduce both the defense and intelligence budgets—suggested we cancel the Hexagon program. I argued with a four-star admiral in front of the President (I was a colonel then) and persuaded Carter to keep Hexagon operating.

From ’85 to ’87, I led DMA and with it the effort to modernize the mapping, charting, and geodesy process. Congress had passed a law making DMA a combat support agency. My job was to implement that. As director of DMA, I learned what capabilities programs like Hexagon and Gambit brought to geospatial world. This enabled us to dramatically improve our knowledge and provide combat forces with previously unheard of location accuracies that allowed the development of weapons like cruise missiles, other “smart” weapons, and medium-range ballistic missiles.

When we gave tours of DMA we would describe the digital brains of the smart weapons we made as ‘Rosie’s AAA TripTiks.’ The things we built would guide cruise missiles to their targets. Later, during the Iraq War, my son called me and said, ‘Dad, cruise missiles are flying down the streets of Baghdad using your AAA TripTiks.’ All of these things collectively helped turn the tide of the Cold War.

Q: Could you describe your role in helping to create NGA?

After Desert Storm, I served on the Gates Blue Ribbon Committee on Imagery. In ’92, we recommended to the DCI and the secretary of defense the establishment of what we called a national imagery agency, which ultimately became NGA.

Many Defense Science Board studies I served on showed a repeat of issues still unresolved from the Gulf War. The Gulf War had left in its wake a sense of dissatisfaction about imagery support to operations. DCI Bob Gates commissioned a task force to examine these issues. We carefully studied them and recommended the establishment of an agency that would include DCI requirements, the National Photographic Interpretation Center, Defense Intelligence Agency imagery analysts, and DMA. Our report recommended placing the new agency in the DoD because the Defense Department was both the primary user of imagery products and the location of major problems such as integrating the tasking of tactical assets with strategic and national assets.

I argued with those who said their job was to support the president, not military operations. And I would say, ‘Military operations are what the commander in chief is responsible for.’ I was not very popular in some arenas. Initially, a Central Imagery Office was created under the DoD on a more limited basis than was recommended by our task force. Later, in ’96, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) was established. Our badgering of DoD and DCI leadership began this process, and it matured significantly as NGA in the Clapper era.

Q: How has the creation of NGA since benefited the geospatial industry and the nation?

I want to give James Clapper a lot of credit. The various fiefdoms that had been forced to stand up NIMA still owed their loyalty to where they came from. But NGA created a true geospatial information system, so GEOINT became the cornerstone of national security through its place at the center of many diverse intelligence methods. To help all that along, NGA has established a lot of academic and business opportunities to better serve our nation’s needs that didn’t exist in my day.

When Clapper took over NGA at a very trying time, I was running an operations advisory board for him, and he said, ‘Rosie, why can’t I use Google Maps?’ And I said, ‘Because your contracts, security, acquisition people, and lawyers all say it’s in violation of DoD regulations. They come up with all kinds of reasons because they don’t want to lose control. So, tell your staff that is intolerable reasoning. Get Google Maps!’

Guess what? The DoD and IC now use Google and a whole host of other commercial applications. NGA is a leader in making that happen. Through research, grants, and small business initiatives, NGA is embracing the private sector to lead a convergence of geospatial information not only for the IC, but also for a better society.

And the creation USGIF—the only organization of its kind aimed at bringing together the GEOINT sector. As part of the Foundation’s mission, NGA leadership personally participates in the GEOINT Symposium, lecture series, and everything you do.

Q: You have a reputation for not being afraid to “break the rules” in the name of progress. Could you provide some examples of instances in which this approach served you well?

Well, I’ve got a long list! I guess that’s why I only made two stars instead of four. [Laughs]

Some of my proudest moments are when I was working on the NSC. I had discovered a program called GPS, which the Air Force was not interested in and which wasn’t included in the Secretary of Defense’s budget to the White House. I snuck it in, and that originated the funding of GPS. After it went to Capitol Hill, I got a phone call from an Air Force three-star saying, ‘I don’t know who you think you are but your career is over, you put that useless piece of space junk in the budget.’

That fight was not over when I left the Pentagon and went back to the Air Force. I ran the Air Force operations research organization as HQ USAF assistant chief of staff and forced the full funding of GPS even though the air staff was not all that excited about such a program. My operations research analysis led the chief of staff and secretary of the Air Force to overrule the naysayers and approve the program.

GPS is now a critical element of the geospatial information foundation and it was essential to make our military and intelligence programs far more successful.

Later, I was running a GPS advisory board for the Air Force. In Afghanistan, the Air Force only supported requirements for 24 GPS systems around Earth. There were several hours per day in which GPS was not available to our military because of the wicked, mountainous terrain that interfered with having three satellites in the line of sight, which is mandatory to get a GPS signal. We had six spares in orbit. I led an operational analysis that showed if we changed the orbital structure to 27 it would dramatically improve the availability and significantly improve the accuracy. And, by the way, our enemies in Afghanistan knew when we didn’t have coverage and that’s when they did their critical operations.

I took this study to Space Command leadership who in turn shared it with Strategic Command, which challenged my recommendation. I said on the day before Christmas, ‘Move them now or my next call is to the Sec Def!’ That Christmas Eve, the order was made to start moving the extra satellites, and soon the commanders of both Space and Strategic Command were briefing the press about how they were dramatically improving the availability of GPS and its precision to our warfighters in Afghanistan.

It’s our job to ensure our GPS is the gold standard rather than a foreign technology. It’s also important for the national economy and for U.S. leadership in technology around the world. America’s advanced GPS is now the international gold standard for space-based positioning, navigation, and timing. I’m proud to have been a part of that.

Q: What do you think are promising future applications of GEOINT that benefit not only national security, but society as well?

I prefer to call it geospatial information rather than GEOINT. It’s much broader than just national intelligence. Human trafficking, animals, criminals and parolees, equipment, disease, shipments and containers, vehicle fleets, and railroads. Tracking these things using all the information flow we have over time and location presents tremendous opportunity for improvement in all areas.

The most important thing to do with that tracking is threat prediction. The world is such a more dangerous place with terrorist threats, crazy things going on inside our country from radical groups right here—not overseas. We need to do a far better job of integrating what are currently stray pieces of information.

Another area I think has a lot of future applications is safety of aviation operations given the proliferation of robots in the air. We’re going to have a wreck if we don’t get this straightened out.

Geospatial information can also affect emergency services, earthquake prediction, and weather prediction. Here in the U.S., we already apply GPS to farming, and there is a lot of improvement to be made internationally. It’s better for our society to make other countries better.

GIS capabilities will help fulfill transformational needs to protect the homeland. It provides human assistance and disaster relief. GIS will also serve a central role as the government leverages information technology.

When I was director of DMA, I visited the Combatant Commands we supported. When I went to see the leader of Special Operations Command, I told him, ‘You’ve got so many requirements for immediate production of updated maps and charts—can’t you slow this down?’ He said, ‘When the President calls me and says your job is to get our people out of harm’s way in an embassy overseas I have to deploy SOF forces right now whether I have any maps or charts from you or not!’

The better our exploitation of geospatial information, the stronger our military operations are.

Q: Given your successful career of more than 50 years, what advice do you have for future GEOINT leaders?

While it may sound like advice just for military folks, this is intended for civil servants and future commercial world leaders as well. Focus first on mission. That’s what you are here for. Make sure what you do is right, not what is the rhetoric of flawed, outdated policy. Demand that such be changed.

The mission is not to follow the regulation book but to provide operational military capabilities vital to our nation’s survival and freedom. Break down barriers that prevent sensible solutions.

Focus on those whom you serve. Make them understand the right way ahead. Your boss is not always right—as matter of fact, he or she is wrong a lot of the time. Earn the trust of your bosses. I was fortunate to have bosses who tolerated near anarchy from their smart people, and I adopted that style the rest of my career.

When I took over DMA, I met with my leadership and told them we were going to turn DMA into a combat support agency under the proposed new legislation. I said, ‘I cannot stand yes men’ and told the story of Aesop’s fable and the king who had no clothes. A senior civil servant at DMA came to me afterward and said, ‘You’ll probably fire me, but you have no clothes.’ He gave me list of things that needed to be done at DMA to become a successful combat support agency. I did everything he suggested and made much more effective operations as a result.

Focus on the future. You are responsible for the freedom and good life of future generations, not just your own. As you climb the ladder, remember good managers only do things right. Good leaders do the right things. You have to operate outside the box. You have to take risks. Followers never fail. It’s only people who take risk and fail that learn how to become leaders. As a leader, don’t issue orders and expect to be followed. Roll up your sleeves, get your fingers dirty, and lead by example. People will understand you mean business. Empower people. Make change the baseline. Never be satisfied with the status quo. You need to be able to look in the mirror and be proud of what you’re doing. You must never think about what to do to get promoted. Do the above and you will serve your business, country, and society best. Promotions will follow.

I like to quote President JFK: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

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A Homegrown Leader Tue, 17 Oct 2017 13:32:31 +0000 Web exclusive Q&A with Justin Poole, the new deputy director of NGA

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Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your roles and responsibilities as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) new deputy director.

My background is in geography and cartography. I graduated from the University of Maryland and started at the Defense Mapping Agency (a predecessor to NGA) as a young cartographer in ’91. I worked my way through the ranks in the geospatial analysis world, and became interested in improving the systems we work on day-to-day. I got into the requirements and development world from an operational perspective, and ended up becoming NGA’s chief architect so we could design and architect our systems to better support the mission.

I got a little hungry for getting back to hands-on missions, so I went back to analysis for a time. Then I went over to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to be the mission manager for counterterrorism for two years on joint duty assignment. I came back to NGA for a bit then left on other joint duty assignment to the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to support the building of new satellite capabilities as associate deputy director of IMINT.

I was asked to come back to NGA to stand up and run the Xperience directorate. I did that for several years, working on GEOINT Services and the customer experience. I was then selected to be the director of source, responsible for content and safety of navigation. Then, in August of this year, I was selected as the seventh deputy director of NGA.

My responsibilities are simple: I run the agency. NGA Director Robert Cardillo sets the strategy, leads from above, sets goals and priorities, and it’s my responsibility to execute them and run the organization.

Q: How do you plan to build upon agency initiatives to develop innovative industry partnerships?

Throughout my career, no matter what I was working on, I have always realized the value in strong industry partnerships. The challenges and the goals Director Cardillo has laid out for us require us to take a harder look at the way we approach acquiring capabilities from our industry partners and academia.

One of the ways I’m going to help NGA build better relationships with our industry partners is to revamp our acquisition processes. I know that sounds like the same thing every new deputy director says, but I have watched us get to a point where we’re a little too focused on building systems around workflows, which leads to large, waterfall developments. We need to be focused on tools and applications that center around the data and are a lot more agile. I’m going to revamp the acquisition process around being able to take advantage of different contracting mechanisms, nontraditional industry partnerships, what’s available in the open, and to not necessarily require partners automatically have SCIFs and clearances. We will build and develop on the low side and move high as necessary.

I’m also in the process of redefining the role of the component acquisition executive within NGA. That work is underway.

Q: In addition to acquisition reform, Director Cardillo has many ambitious goals for the agency. What are your plans for executing his goals?

If you really dig into the Director’s vision and goals, while they have matured as the times and technology have evolved over his three-year tenure, they have remained steadfast: to deliver relevancy to our customers, to keep us left of launch, to embrace automation and new tradecraft, and to work together to improve our culture.

We have struggled internally to understand how to manage and communicate that change not only to our workforce but also to our industry partners and among our senior cadre. The first thing I’ve done is work to implement a new organizational structure and governance process that for the first time, in my opinion, has very clear lines of responsibility, accountability, and almost by definition requires transparency and communication among senior executives charged with running those governance processes. Far too often organizations sidestep governance when it gets too hard. We’re not going to let that happen this time because part of running the business is for me to make sure the governance process is used.

The Director has asked me to accelerate the delivery of capabilities to the desktop, and in order to do so effectively and efficiently we can’t be mired down in process.

Q: Under this new organizational structure, NGA has reorganized its directorates and changed the title of chief of staff to executive director. What do these changes represent?

I’ve found throughout my career that you don’t really reorganize, you tweak to correct areas that might need some attention.

There are two major changes under this reorganization. One, we had our chief of staff loaded down with not only the enormous responsibility of a chief of staff for an agency of this size, but also with oversight of several large key components or directorates—security and installation and human development. We wanted that position to focus on the integration and synchronization of activities across the organization.

So, Ed Mornston, formerly our chief of staff, is now executive director of the agency. We studied other examples of an executive director in the community and found it to be what we were looking for. In doing so, we took the large directorates that were previously aligned to the chief of staff and created an associate director for support and aligned those directorates under that person.

We also took our international affairs organization and moved it out from under the director for operations (now called the associate director for operations) to fall under the associate director for enterprise, which aligns with our National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG)/Allied System for Geospatial Intelligence (ASG) organization called the Geospatial Enterprise. This gives our external reach one place to be focused on—NSG, ASG, and all of our international partners.

One other slight change is we re-established the west executive. This is important. Previously, the most senior person in St. Louis was the deputy chief of staff and they did deputy chief of staff work but just happened to sit in St. Louis. We had used a west executive in previous administrations and decided to bring it back. That person will be the most senior person in St. Louis and will report to the Director and myself and be our representative in the west.

Q: How did your joint duty assignments at NCTC and NRO influence your perspective on GEOINT?

I have become a card-carrying fan of the joint duty program. I can’t say enough about how excellent of an experience it is for any officer at any level within the organization. Before I had done one I felt like I didn’t need it. I felt like I knew what I needed to know. But until you immerse yourself in another organization that is part of the same community, you don’t really see the differences and the benefits.

The benefits are enormous. You get to see not only a new mission, but also you get to see your mission back at the ranch from someone else’s perspective. And you gain an expanded network of colleagues that is invaluable in the Intelligence Community (IC) where you are required to have a strong network to get anything done. The alliances, friendships, and partnerships I’ve built in my two joint duty assignments are invaluable and I still reach out to many of those people today.

You also gain an appreciation for the subtly different challenges that other organizations feel, and also get a sense of relief when you see another organization maybe having the same challenges you’re having—you don’t feel like it’s just you.

Q: What are some of the obstacles the community faces that keep you up at night?

Not only from my perch at NGA as deputy director, but as a member of the IC, what keeps me up at night is fear of failure. I’m not talking about me personally; I’m talking about the community that I grew up in and love failing in a critical way. I always want my customer to go into a fair fight and it’s my job to make sure they have that advantage.

That fear is a healthy thing to have. If I slept well at night then I’m probably not doing my job properly. A good friend and colleague once used that line with me and it resonated and holds true.

Q: As a member of the GEOINT Community for more than 25 years, what do you envision for the future of the community and tradecraft?

I would say two things, and both are very doable and we are well on our way. The first is maintaining our edge. For the longest time, the community held a monopoly on sources and now we have a world rich with new, compelling, exciting sources—whether it’s commercial satellites, new types of data, or analytic services. We’ve got to maintain our edge and take the best advantage of that available source and information to allow us to stay relevant.

The second thing is so much of our ability to handle that revolves around technology. It’s great to have tons of data, but if you don’t have the technology to make sense of it, organize it, conduct automation against it, and to drive to answers rather than eyeballs on imagery, you’re not going to be effective. Traditionally, the IC and Department of Defense have done systems or technology acquisition in a specific and often laborious way. We don’t have time for that anymore. We need to mature those processes.

Q: What are you looking for from industry and academia?

To be frank, what I need from them right now is patience. And I say that as a person who knows that in the last six to eight months my community has been less than deliberate in our preparation for requirement that have gone out to industry. In other words, we’ve put out RFPs or RFIs and then pulled them back or we’ve extended contracts. I ask them for patience, but also to help me as I mature the acquisition process to understand what I can do to help make their lives easier. I will be spending a great deal of time with industry to discuss these matters with them. I know the GEOINT Community around industry loves the mission, is patriotic, and they put up with us and are great partners. We’re going to do better together.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?

I grew up in this agency. I did my time away, but this agency is my home and I feel honored and privileged to have been selected as the deputy director and I’m even more excited because I feel like I was a homegrown choice. I’m going to work doubly hard to ensure we are successful—and success is more than this agency. Success is achieved along with our industry, academic, and international partners. I feel good and I’m more excited than I’ve ever been about a job as I step into this position.

Photo Credit: NGA

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The Future of GEOINT Tue, 26 Sep 2017 13:21:27 +0000 Why activity-based intelligence and machine learning demonstrate that the future of GEOINT has already arrived

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Editor’s Note: Barry Barlow is chief technology officer at Vencore. Guest posts are intended to foster discussion and do not represent the official position of USGIF or trajectory magazine.

GEOINT, shorthand for geospatial intelligence, is a term created by then director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, to define a fundamentally unique foundational element of intelligence. In his October 2005 memo on GEOINT, Clapper explained the subject as follows:

GEOINT encompasses all aspects of imagery … and geospatial information and services. … It includes, but is not limited to … the analysis of literal imagery; geospatial data; and information technically derived from the processing, exploitation, literal, and non-literal analysis of spectral, spatial, and temporal … fused products (that is, products created out of two or more data sources). … These types of data can be collected on stationary and moving targets by electro-optical …, [synthetic aperture radar (SAR)] …, related sensor programs …, and non-technical means (to include geospatial information acquired by personnel in the field). 

A few future concepts from the abbreviated definition illustrate that the future of GEOINT is now.

Activity-Based Intelligence (ABI): This methodology to discover and resolve unknown entities and objects and depict a pattern of life is almost always included as a “future GEOINT trend” in any report on the subject. Clapper assumed ABI would be a foundational element of GEOINT—“these types of data can be collected on stationary and moving targets”—hence his desire to provide the broadest possible definition of GEOINT—“all aspects of imagery and geospatial information and services.” The incorporation of full motion video into the GEOINT domain was a leading indicator in the shift from reconnaissance to surveillance and from periodic collections to persistence, which is made easier by other future trends such as small satellites and the Internet of Things.

Two ABI precepts, data neutrality and integration before exploitation, highlight the need for another future trend: big data analytics. Big data analytics can provide hypotheses on the intention, strategies, or motivations of an adversary or ally. Ideally, analytics are anticipatory in nature and will be completed long before an issue appears on one’s radar as actionable intelligence. Again, Clapper’s definition of GEOINT was purposefully broad relative to data sources (e.g., literal and non-literal) as one could not know in advance all the questions or issues that would require a GEOINT response. Implicit in the definition is the desire to understand hidden patterns or correlations between related but unique sources. What unique intelligence can we gain from infrared, spectral, or SAR? Or, can we confirm with a greater degree of confidence a finding that we suspected?

Machine Learning: This technological advance is either a necessary post-condition of the explosion in GEOINT content or a pre-condition to ABI and big data analytics, or both. Increases in machine learning are used daily for all of the above reasons and more. For example, machine learning is used to increase confidence in an analytic result through triangulation of analytic results. Virtually any forecast for the explosive growth of GEOINT content in the next year or decade ends with the conclusion that organic assets (i.e., people) cannot keep up with the pace of information. Machine learning is the only practicable solution on the horizon.  

NGA Director Robert Cardillo noted in his keynote address at GEOINT 2017: “For ‘Team GEOINT’—this is our time. We are standing where the SIGINT community stood when the internet became the digital fabric of the planet. And whether our new, persistent view of the world comes from space, air, sea, or ground—in five years, there may be a million times more than the amount of geospatial data that we have today. … We’ll either sink, or we’ll swim, or we’ll ride the rising tide. I say we ride!

I could not agree more. The point is not that we won’t see new capabilities in the future—of course we will.

In keeping with the famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “The future depends on what you do today,” the GEOINT domain abounds with potential for new development. 

There is enough yet unexplored territory in the current GEOINT landscape for us to make our mark, to reach new horizons, and to fulfill the promise of the GEOINT premise as envisioned not quite 12 years ago. 

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Data Brokerage and Reorganization at NGA Mon, 18 Sep 2017 19:55:07 +0000 Kristin St. Peter speaks at USGIF GEOINTeraction Tuesday

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NGA’s Kristin St. Peter

Kristin St. Peter of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) engaged an audience of nearly 100 people in a question-and-answer session Sept. 12 during USGIF’s GEOINTeraction Tuesday event, which was hosted by CA Technologies at the CIT building in Herndon, Va.

St. Peter announced NGA’s reorganization, mentioned her new title—deputy associate director of capabilities—and focused much of the discussion on public-private partnerships and NGA’s goal to use data as currency.

“It takes 100,000 images to be able to train an algorithm to spot a plane, train, or automobile with a 90 percent level of accuracy,” St. Peter said. “We have those data sets and want to be able to use them to partner with people who normally don’t partner with government.”

Gathering training data can often be more difficult for startup artificial intelligence (AI) companies than luring venture capital investors, she noted, and said that by bringing training data to the table NGA hopes to drive forward its own missions as well as the industrial base. St. Peter also emphasized these nontraditional partnerships are intended to complement but not replace CRADAs and other more traditional information sharing agreements.

The audience asked for examples in which data brokerage models have been successful and how such a partnership would work logistically. St. Peter explained that when exchanging training data for algorithms and other AI tools, NGA would retain intellectual property rights in terms of a partners’ ability to sell the data.

“We would place caveats on who you sold it to. We don’t want to give [our adversaries] the training data needed to outpace us in AI,” she said. “We need to be selective in how we pick our partners and how they use the IP. We would place a few restrictions on it but wouldn’t diminish the IP to the point where it’s not worth your while.”

In doing so, the agency hopes to pave the way for the federal government to draw better conclusions from its data troves.

“Everybody in government is having the exact same problem. We have too much information,” she said. “We don’t now how to make sense of it. If we can crack this code at NGA we think this is scalable to rest of the IC and to the rest of the government … But the cultural change—getting people to embrace this is not easy.”


To help facilitate cultural change, NGA is in the process of a reorganization designed to enhance its business processes, according to St. Peter.

“We have gone to a model where titles look more like how the CIA is structured and how they assign and organize their work,” she said.

Under the reorganization, NGA’s associate directorates are: Operations, led by Maj. Gen Urrutia-Varhall; Capabilities, led by Dr. Anthony Vinci and his deputy, St. Peter; Support, led by Ellen Ardrey; and Enterprise, led by Dustin Gard-Weiss.

NGA’s former chief of staff, Ed Mornston, now has the title of executive director. The executive director has more specific responsibilities to assist the agency’s director and deputy director in integrating agency activities and operations, where the chief of staff position was responsible for support office functions.

In addition to seeking nontraditional partners and reorganizing, St. Peter said the agency is adopting a coding training program at all levels of the organization as well as looking to hire more employees, including software engineers and data visualization experts.

“We’re bringing in new skill sets and have a hiring plan for next two years to do that,” she said “Our training plan goes out to five years.”

St. Peter, who spent a total of seven years deployed to the Middle East, concluded that these cultural shifts are all intended to bolster national security. She added that many emerging technologies such as AI are applicable and necessary across industry, business, environmental organizations, and the federal government.

“We are about to enter a new world. Geospatial information is everywhere. Its democratization, GEOINT on the rise—all these sayings are true.”

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Call for Abstracts: State & Future of GEOINT Thu, 17 Aug 2017 18:51:34 +0000 USGIF hosting virtual State and Future of GEOINT Content Exchange in addition to live discussions

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USGIF’s annual State and Future of GEOINT Report provides the GEOINT Community an opportunity to assess the current state of the profession and look ahead to the technologies and tradecraft of the future.  

USGIF hosts in-person content exchanges that form the basis of the annual report. This report would not be possible without volunteer authors from government, industry, and academia dedicating their time and thought leadership.

This year, for the first time, USGIF is also reaching out beyond the live exchanges and announcing a virtual State and Future of GEOINT Call for Abstracts for those who cannot attend in-person but would still like to write for the report.

If you wish to submit an article for consideration, please prepare a one-page Word document including the following:

  • A proposed article title
  • An abstract of no more than 250 words.
  • The names, titles, and contact information of at least two other co-authors. The three authors should not be from the same organization.

Abstracts should be sent to no later than Monday, September 8.

Virtual teams will be notified no later than October 6 whether their article has been selected for inclusion. Writing and revision will take place throughout October and November with final drafts due in early December.

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Accelerating Acquisition Wed, 16 Aug 2017 20:15:04 +0000 NGA seeks to enable speedy innovation, optimize partnerships with industry

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The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), like many other government agencies, has found itself consistently outpaced by commercial industry when it comes to the development of progressive GEOINT tools and solutions. Rather than trying to compete with industry, the agency has focused on contracting with private sector innovators to leverage their creativity and technical expertise.

At USGIF’s GEOINT 2017 Symposium in June, NGA participated in an “Acquisition Report Card” panel session to discuss the evolution of the agency’s acquisition strategy and to glean constructive feedback from industry spectators seeking government partnership. Audience reaction was critical, which was not surprising to agency representatives.

According to Nicole Pierce, NGA’s head of contract services, industry’s main criticisms of the acquisition system predictably revolved around timeliness.

“We’re taking way too long to do things, and it’s a drain on [our partners’] resources,” Pierce said.

To cut down on wastefulness, NGA is working to reduce its acquisition timeline and to lower bureaucratic process barriers that hold companies in limbo—for example, requiring proposals to be reviewed by numerous boards before awarding a contract. A company might spend months pitching a project and waiting for a response, only to be declined. NGA aims to eliminate traps such as these.

Defining Success

To be more generous and experimental with its partnerships, NGA must first perfect what Pierce refers to as “Phase One.” Often called acquisition planning, this is an area in which—before ever issuing a public request for information (RFI)—the agency articulates internally exactly what end capabilities or services it seeks and how those capabilities would benefit national security. NGA has neglected Phase One for years and hopes to improve it in order to enhance and accelerate the entire acquisition cycle, according to Pierce.

Agile acquisition is about acknowledging where our bottlenecks are and how we break down those barriers.”
— Donna Logsdon, Deputy Component Acquisition Executive, NGA

If project requirements are not clearly defined and communicated to industry partners, contracts often end up delayed. Pierce referenced a delayed program called Patagonia, which was a call for commercial vendors to develop a cloud-provisioned content library for structured and unstructured GEOINT data.

“There was a recognition that perhaps we weren’t getting it right,” Pierce said. “[We need to] make sure that we don’t engage industry before we’re ready—where we go out with an RFI or a draft RFP saying we’re going to do something one way, and when the final [RFP] comes out we do it a different way.”

This problem isn’t exclusive to the contract team—NGA’s overall acquisition governance recognizes the need for clearer communication. Deputy Component Acquisition Executive Donna Logsdon said, “We often don’t do a good job at clearly defining what success looks like and not just success for us, but success for the industry partner as well.”

Clear, two-way dialogue is necessary to ensure partners understand exactly what challenges NGA is struggling with and what is required of industry solutions.

One important tool NGA is leveraging to improve communication and promote collaboration with industry is the GEOINT Solutions Marketplace (GSM), an interactive online repository for information about GEOINT users’ needs and challenges.

According to NGA industry advocate Daniel Takane, “It’s all about evolving our market research into market understanding.”

GSM features a problem center that details specific GEOINT obstacles that require solutions in addition to a capabilities catalog, which is a centralized list of products, services, and data offered by GSM members.

New to GSM is the Commercial GEOINT Activity (CGA), a partnership between NGA and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). CGA provides preliminary assessments of commercial GEOINT offerings that have the potential to satisfy Community mission needs, including activity characterization, activity discovery, and mapping. A remote sensing company, for example, could upload a change-detection offering to GSM’s capabilities catalog. The CGA Leaderboard, a new web platform accessible via GSM, would assess the offering’s usefulness to NGA to determine whether the company would be an apt fit for an upcoming contract. The Leaderboard will serve as a digital scoreboard that articulates joint NGA/NRO needs and allows prospective industry partners to score their solutions against those needs as a means of gathering timely feedback about their business prospects.

Clarity in the pre-contract domain is just the tip of the iceberg in reforming NGA’s acquisition program. Since Sue Gordon—as of press time nominated to be Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence—assumed the role of NGA deputy director in 2015, agility has become the primary emphasis.

Agile acquisition serves to improve NGA’s speed to market. According to an open letter Gordon issued to the NGA workforce shortly after she joined the agency, national security threats do not brake for outdated bureaucracy, so why should the federal government adhere to passé processes that slow the delivery of crucial capabilities?

“Agile acquisition is about acknowledging where our bottlenecks are and how we break down those barriers,” Logsdon said. She and Pierce are co-chairing a study to identify choke points where agile methodology could be applied to save valuable time and resources, not just in the acquisition cycle but in NGA’s corporate governance as well. According to NGA, the study is expected to be released in the fall.

Logsdon reiterated source selection is one of these problem areas, and she recommended written process requirements that would shorten the timeline between when an RFP is issued and when NGA makes a final source selection for a contract.

Nontraditional Techniques

NGA’s new acquisition workforce strategy, released in April, sees the agency pivot away from the program management focus of the last decade, which concentrated energy on things such as certification and systems engineering, to a more technical, performance-based nucleus. NGA employs many of government’s finest program managers, Logsdon said, but that priority has detracted from the agency’s technical edge. Rather than simply making sure a project is on schedule and under budget, it is increasingly essential to verify that programs are operating efficiently and delivering on goals.

To improve this process, NGA is encouraging program managers to enroll in internal coding classes to sharpen their skills and keep abreast of the proficiency of modern industry. Even NGA Director Robert Cardillo has completed some of the coding training. Critical thinking courses are being offered as well to help managers fully digest information provided by analysts.

To further enhance industry partnerships, NGA is working to become more software and data orientated—one of the primary goals identified at GEOINT 2017 by agency director of plans and programs Dr. Anthony Vinci.

More artificial intelligence programs, for example, will be introduced to allow analysts to reallocate their energy to more critical assignments such as event prediction. Furthermore, data will be offered as a form of digital currency when partnering with industry. With years of historic intelligence records, the agency possesses a vast abundance of data wealth that can be shared to help meet mission demands.

“Data is going to become the new oil for [NGA] in a lot of ways,” Logsdon said.

Instead of paying a commercial vendor to develop an image recognition algorithm, for example, NGA might give the vendor access to heaps of relevant, high-quality data that small, non-government companies would never be able to collect on their own. That data accelerates the production, testing, and practical application of the algorithm and bolsters the vendor’s own internal research.

New, nontraditional companies that wouldn’t otherwise want to compete in the government market might be attracted to the availability of NGA’s extensive data pool, trading their services for access and subsequently strengthening the relationship between the public and private sectors.

Industry partners both old and new are cautiously hopeful regarding the shift to agile acquisition practices.

“Achieving a more agile acquisition framework is enviable, but I’m not certain this is close to reality,” said Michael Goman, a program manager at Altamira who attended the GEOINT 2017 report card session. “Recent efforts such as Patagonia make me think NGA isn’t certain what it wants. For example, I would like to see a definitive statement and acquisition announcements that show whether NGA is committed to [Amazon Web Services]. One of the big question marks for the Community is how to get existing databases into the cloud. …Small and flexible acquisitions that do not require mega companies to respond represents a solid strategy—if there is enough meat on the bones to determine where to invest and how to shape opportunities.”

Contractual Linguistics

Smaller, more flexible acquisition is the goal, and the shift to agile acquisition will ripple beyond NGA project management—contracts issued by the agency will undergo renovation as well.

I think we scared some small businesses away from doing business with us because maybe our RFP states that having past performance in an NGA environment is desired.”
— Nicole Pierce, Head of Contract Services, NGA

Returning to the Patagonia contract as an example, NGA asked, “Can we make this into smaller, more modular activities where we can more clearly articulate what our requirements are to industry?” Logsdon said. “We did this with Patagonia, and it was a wonderful experience.”

Specific clauses within contract text may be slowing solution development as well. NGA plans to revamp contract language to emphasize the delivery of end capabilities rather than adherence to traditional development processes.

“To support agile, we’ve created capacity-based contracts,” Pierce said. “We’re buying in sprints. We’re not buying a system that’s confined to requirements A, B, C, and D in the contract vehicle itself.”

Where a traditional contract might stipulate that a vendor must deliver a series of results in a certain order with a pre-allocated number of human resources, a contract under the new system would simply specify a deliverable outcome without restricting how to achieve it.

NGA has made provisions for new contracts to be more flexible. According to Pierce, this applies primarily to the concept of “scope” within a contract, and NGA’s traditionally strict adherence to that scope. Literal interpretations by the agency’s acquisition governance may be limiting innovation in the post-award environment—a hypothesis Pierce posed to the audience at GEOINT 2017. Innovation often requires deviation from expected methodologies, and creative solutions can sometimes qualify as changes of scope that would violate NGA’s contractual agreement with a vendor.

To avoid stymieing creativity and driving away potential partners with red tape, NGA is beginning to expand contract scopes to allow vendors to rearrange their developmental priorities if they discover new room to innovate—the idea being that adaptability will breed ingenuity.

Logsdon said this is another area that relies upon a cultural adjustment within NGA’s acquisition workforce—an adjustment that would return to program managers the right to authorize funding for inventive methods and research without needing to approach NGA’s legal department to rewrite a contract.

She also highlighted the need to incentivize vendors within their contracts to push the envelope and explore ways to save time or money, even if those opportunities exist outside of the original project scope.

The Department of Defense (DoD), for instance, directs a “value engineering” initiative that awards contracts to companies with ideas of any kind resulting in proven cost savings or product improvements. According to the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, value engineering has resulted in cost avoidances of approximately $1 billion per year for the DoD—savings NGA would also like to see in the coming years.

To help drive efficiencies, NGA has also begun to explore the use of government wide acquisition contracts (GWACs) through its new Commercial Initiative to Buy Operationally Responsive GEOINT (CIBORG) contract vehicle with the General Services Administration. CIBORG will allow NGA to take advantage of the explosion in geospatial sources and information while brokering commercial imagery products for other government agencies, the military, and first responders.

During a Government Pavilion Stage session on CIBORG at GEOINT 2017, NGA Director of Source Justin Poole described the program as “an excellent opportunity” for companies not used to doing business with the agency. Another primary goal of this nontraditional supply chain is to more quickly connect customers with solutions.

“MDA Information Systems is excited that NGA is looking for new ways to partner with commercial businesses,” said Don Schaefer, president of MDA Information Systems. “We were one of the first companies to offer our products and services under [CIBORG] and are looking forward to NGA utilizing faster, more direct methods to secure commercial products.”

However, NGA’s mission often requires vendors with experience in the geospatial domain that understand the intricacies of the GEOINT tradecraft. GWACs don’t always offer vendors with that detailed understanding, so government-wide contracts may not always be the most appropriate or effective route.

Engaging Small Business

Changes to contract language and processes would invite partnerships with a new population of innovative startups and small businesses—a population that has historically had trouble breaking into the market as a result of NGA’s past-performance requirements.

“I think we scared some small businesses away from doing business with us because maybe our RFP states that having past performance in an NGA environment is desired,” Pierce said. “A company that hasn’t done business with the government before isn’t going to be able to check that box, but is that really necessary?”

Instead, she proposes NGA seek proof that potential partners can deliver requested work quickly and effectively regardless of their experience in a government-contract environment.

To that end, NGA awarded a $20 million contract last October to commercial remote sensing leader Planet for access to the small sat developer’s global imagery archive—a significant partnership for the company, which with less than 500 employees is considered a small business by most standards.

Engaging young, unconventional businesses is a steadily expanding initiative for NGA. In summer 2016, NGA opened an innovation center in Silicon Valley called NGA Outpost Valley, hoping to leverage the capabilities and novel energy of the area’s thriving startup community. Since then, NGA has established a presence in more tech-centric locales, including Boston, San Antonio, Austin, and New York City.

GEOINT 2017 audience report cards graded NGA’s industry engagement this year at a B-, which was an improvement from the C+ rating it gave the agency at GEOINT 2016. Though NGA’s efforts are not going unnoticed, room for improvement remains.

The agency has tested new strategies such as one-on-one meetings with prospective partners, which “industry really likes when we’re in the middle of a competitive procurement,” Pierce said.

Traditional industry days can foster an environment of secrecy—no small business wants to share its particular methods with contract competitors—so one-on-one sit-downs with NGA encourage more candid dialogues.

“[NGA] knows that we can’t solve all of GEOINT’s problems alone,” Takane said. “I don’t think industry can either.”

Rhonda Cornelsen, CEO of Helm Point Solutions, said she appreciates events such as the Acquisition Report Card Session, which provides industry a voice and offers insight into NGA’s efforts to modernize acquisition.

“As a cybersecurity contractor, we applaud NGA’s efforts to embrace agile acquisition and their candid dialogue with industry,” Helsen said. “Agile acquisition is a tall order to fill and may not fit every situation, but with a terrorist threat that can morph at will, the country needs the agility to quell the threat promptly.”

Collaboration between government and commercial industry is necessary to combat emerging threats and to secure the geospatial environment of tomorrow. While continuously seeking improvements to its acquisition processes, NGA aims to respond constructively to industry’s evolving needs and to build up and maintain a strong relationship between public and private GEOINT innovators.

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