Q&A with Kathy Pherson, chief executive officer, Pherson Associates
Before establishing Pherson Associates, Kathy Pherson was director of the Central Intelligence Center for Security Evaluation, where she managed the Intelligence Community’s involvement in embassy security issues, including rebuilding the penetrated U.S. embassy in Moscow. After 27 years in intelligence and security analysis and resource management, Pherson took early retirement from the CIA in 2000.
She and her husband, Randy, who retired as the National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, founded Pherson Associates in 2003 after being asked to support analytic tradecraft projects at the CIA and to train FBI analysts. While Pherson Associates serves the U.S. government, its subsidiary Globalytica offers analytic training and mentoring for private and international customers.
How would you describe the work you do at Pherson Associates?
We build analytic cultures by teaching and guiding analysts in the effective use of strategies and techniques to make sense of the present and to anticipate the future. We offer a variety of tradecraft classes and mentoring programs, including critical thinking, analytic thinking, and structured analytic techniques as well as executive and leadership coaching programs. As retired intelligence managers, we did not originally think of ourselves as trainers or curriculum developers. But we knew how to produce valuable intelligence products and how they are used at the highest levels.
The people who we bring aboard, from senior consultants to instructors, have extensive experience in the Intelligence Community (IC). This allows us to offer a range of analytic training and tradecraft development services, such as collecting and arraying critical data, developing and applying analytic techniques, maximizing the power of analysis, and improving analytic production and evaluation.
Who primarily uses your services?
We are a small company, but we’ve worked with just about every IC agency, including the Department of Homeland Security; the Departments of Defense, State, and Justice; and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), in addition to several non-IC agencies. Through Globalytica, we have served 10 Fortune 100 companies and more than a dozen foreign nations. Our books, available on our website, are used across government, private industry, and academia.
We are proud of our support for NGA’s All Leaders Coaching Program and are particularly committed to helping the government reform security processes. In addition to my service as IC legend Charlie Allen’s vice chair on the Intelligence and National Security Alliance’s Security Policy Reform Council, we are helping develop analytic approaches to security at the Performance Accountability Council Program Management Office, the National Background Investigations Bureau, and the Defense Security Service.
What are some of the most significant challenges you face?
Acquisition is by far the largest hurdle. Government agencies are in a difficult position because they must adhere to a lot of rules to maintain fair competition. They don’t want procurements to be challenged and therefore delayed. But frankly, the system continues to disadvantage small businesses. There are always reasons why the rules are there, but few acquisition officers understand the business perspective. I’m convinced we can do better at truly building our partnerships and providing opportunities for small businesses—those that offer services as well as technologies.
When did you become a USGIF Individual Member?
I joined USGIF several years ago for two reasons. First, I wanted to be able to participate in the GEOINT Symposium and other USGIF activities to interact with the GEOINT Community we had been working with at NGA since 2008. Second, I wanted to be active in USGIF’s Small Business Advisory Working Group (SBAWG), which I chaired for four years.
How has USGIF Membership helped you reach your goals?
The road for small businesses is hard. USGIF and the SBAWG provide access to decision-makers and leaders. So, you have a chance of getting your brand, company, and services out there. You can attend different events, meet people, and then follow up. USGIF provides an essential platform for networking and learning about the needs of the GEOINT Community. I’ve also learned a lot from participating in the NGA Advisory Working Group, which enables members to engage on acquisition problems in partnership with other large, medium, and small businesses.