Leaders from AGC, NGA share insights; lawyers talk geospatial law and policy
Leaders from the U.S. Army Geospatial Center (AGC) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) gave presentations Tuesday and Wednesday at the Government Pavilion Stage in the GEOINT 2016 exhibit hall. A group of lawyers also discussed concerns surrounding geospatial law and policy.
Mapping for Army Missions
Most people don’t realize the organization responsible for mapping the Wild West is still performing the same task all over the globe.
“The [U.S.] Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is as old as the Army itself,” said Dr. Joseph Fontanella, director of the U.S. Army Geospatial Center (AGC), which falls under the auspices of USACE. “We’ve been doing this since the founding of the nation.”
And for a long time, AGC worked in relatively predictable territory.
“For years, we were an Army in Europe and South Korea. We were operating in an area that was very well mapped, and we planned and executed at two scales,” Fontanella explained.
That changed dramatically in the early 2000s, when in Iraq and Afghanistan the U.S. found itself in a counterinsurgency environment it hadn’t seen since the Vietnam War.
“We needed a means to acquire, produce, and disseminate data useful in those types of environments,” Fontanella said.
Within six years, AGC had mapped all the urban areas in Iraq, and by 2015, two-thirds of Afghanistan “at high-resolution fidelity,” he added.
That’s important for several reasons—one being the “need to have a more perfect knowledge of battle space than ever before,” he said. This is especially true with the imminent reality of megacities, in which it will be essential to know the environment extremely well should conflicts arise.
Apart from combat missions, mapping is a tool for establishing governance in a democratizing country, for strategic operations, and even for locating water sources.
“Everything starts with a map,” Fontanella said. “If you want to introduce a democratic government, you have to know where the people live. When you can map their country you can show them how to manage infrastructure and deliver emergency services.”
NGA Embraces Agile Acquisition
NGA Deputy Director Sue Gordon heard a lot of chatter at this year’s Symposium. The word she heard most, however, was “acquisition,” she told the audience Wednesday at the GEOINT 2016 Government Pavilion.
“Acquisition is clearly the ‘it’ topic of the day. I don’t think there was a single panelist or keynote speaker that wasn’t asked about it,” observed Gordon, who led an hour-long panel on NGA’s acquisition efforts along with Industry Innovation Advocate Mike Geggus; Component Acquisition Executive Karyn Hayes-Ryan; and Senior Procurement Executive Nicole Pierce.
During their presentation, the NGA leaders highlighted programs such as GSM 2.0, a new and improved version of its GEOINT Solutions Marketplace (GSM) that’s being managed by USGIF; the Innovative GEOINT App Provider Program (IGAPP), which is responsible for NGA’s app store; and the Commercial Initiative Buying Operationally Responsive GEOINT (CIBORG) program, launching next year to establish new mechanisms for the procurement of imagery and imagery-derived products and services.
They also discussed efforts to make the request for proposals process more streamlined and transparent—for example, by communicating NGA’s needs more clearly up front, reducing paperwork, and requiring all program managers, engineers, and source selection staff to undergo agile acquisition training.
The group also expressed NGA’s commitment to continuous improvement, which was evident throughout the discussion when audience members—at Gordon’s request—held up colored cards: green for good, yellow for OK, and red for bad, to grade NGA’s performance on various aspects of the acquisition process.
“Last year we handed out a report card. You generously graded us a C-,” Gordon said. “We didn’t see ourselves as doing that good … So, get your cards out.”
In Praise of Portfolio Management
Is it possible to deliver more value to your customers with fewer resources? NGA has met this goal, according to senior leaders who spoke Tuesday from the Government Pavilion. How? Portfolio management.
By leveraging portfolio management structures and methodologies for the past two-and-a-half years, the agency has made “excellent progress” toward optimizing resources, improving customer service, and eliminating waste, according to NGA Director of Plans and Programs Misty Tullar.
“Our journey began in September 2013, when then-NGA Director [Letitia] Long made the decision to go to a portfolio management construct,” recalled Tullar, who said NGA leadership recognized a gap between the objectives Long had outlined in her NGA strategy and the internal plumbing that was in place to help NGA staff achieve them. “We recognized that we needed to streamline our processes and our decision-making forums.”
John Goolgasian, who manages NGA’s content portfolio, discussed the agency’s evolving definition of “success.”
“In the past we’ve really looked at cost and schedule,” he said. “…This year we’ve done that, of course, but we’re also looking at: Are they delivering capabilities … our analysts and officers need?”
Programs that aren’t delivering value are being terminated and their funds reallocated within and across portfolios.
“None of these portfolios work independently of each other,” concluded Gary Dunow, who heads NGA’s analytic capabilities portfolio, adding portfolio management’s greatest strength is its emphasis on the holistic enterprise instead of the stove-piped business unit.
“We all have dependencies on each other, and we all have to be successful in order for the [other portfolio managers] … to be successful.”
Enabling Acquisition Solutions with GSM 2.0
Government acquisition is notoriously complex, cumbersome, and slow. In order to streamline processes—and deliver to its analysts more and better capabilities, faster—NGA has partnered with USGIF to integrate its GEOINT Solutions Marketplace (GSM) with USGIF’s Industry Solutions Marketplace (ISM). Now known as GSM 2.0, the resulting combination was the subject of a panel discussion Tuesday in the Government Pavilion.
Led by David Cacner, director of NGA’s Enterprise Innovation Office, the panel highlighted new opportunities for industry and academia, who in GSM 2.0 will find a one-stop shop for providing proposed solutions to tradecraft-focused problems.
The process is simple: Potential partners with ideas for technical capabilities can submit proposals to NGA through GSM 2.0. Upon receipt, technical engineers will review the proposals and, if necessary, work with those who submit them to refine for NGA’s unique needs and architecture. Mature proposals end up in front of staff from each of NGA’s portfolios who will then decide which proposals they want to pursue.
“Our concept is that capabilities brought in through [GSM 2.0] can be put out to the user between 30 days and nine months,” Cacner said.
Unique to GSM 2.0 is USGIF’s role: Although NGA is leveraging the community for its missions, USGIF owns GSM 2.0, ensuring maximum participation, flexibility, and accountability.
“The big difference with GSM 2.0 is there’s a social contract now between whomever posts a focused need and those that are able to provide a full or partial solution,” explained Dr. Darryl Murdock, USGIF’s vice president of professional development. “You’ll actually get feedback … That’s huge.”
Lawyers Discuss Cyber Challenges
Cyber vulnerability is a well-known problem. The Office of Personal Management security breach in 2015—in which the identities of more than 20 million U.S. employees were stolen—brought that message home.
“Regardless of the government’s desire to acknowledge it or not, it’s out there. It affects everybody,” said Dorothy Becker, an attorney with the National Reconnaissance Office. Becker, together with Robert Strauss, an attorney from Raytheon, spoke at the Government Pavilion Tuesday.
Increasingly, attorneys will be called in to defend the government as it adapts to free and open-source software (FOSS). Moderator Kevin Pomfret, who leads USGIF’s Geospatial and Remote Sensing Law Working Group, said he hopes lawyers will become a regular part of the GEOINT Community.
Strauss said he found the Symposium and the issues concerning geospatial law and policy “fascinating.”
“Lawyers tend to get a little myopic,” Strauss said. “This makes us think outside the box and see the big picture.”
Becker told the audience, “We haven’t figured out the questions, much less the answers. We will work with you because we want those answers just as much as you do.”
“It has taken the government a long time to get on board [with FOSS],” Becker continued. “Many of the federal acquisitions accept and encourage the use of open-source software. They need to have OSS licenses reviewed. There may be clauses that the government cannot agree to.”
One of the main legal challenges concerning open-source software is it has no single ownership, Becker explained. Because many different people contribute to code from disparate environments “there is no accountability for what code contains; nor quality control,” she said.
Featured image: Representatives from NGA, USGIF, and industry discussed GEOINT Solutions Marketplace 2.0 at the Government Pavilion Stage Tuesday afternoon.
Co-written by Matt Alderton and Kristine Crane
Seeking expanded agility, collaboration, and innovation, the NGA reimagines its acquisition strategy.