Huddling with NGA Senior Leadership

NGA leadership discuss progress, priorities


During Wednesday morning’s GEOINT 2015 general session, “A Conversation with NGA’s Senior Leadership,” USGIF CEO Keith Masback joked, “We’ve cleverly tricked about 1,500 people into coming to a staff meeting.” He was only half kidding. For nearly an hour, the GEOINT Community got to sit at the table—literally, if not for the absence of a physical conference table—with NGA Director Robert Cardillo and the rest of the agency’s front office as they engaged in one of their leadership meetings, which they call “huddles.” The conversation, moderated by Masback, offered a unique glimpse into the inner workings of NGA.

The “meeting” began with Cardillo, who introduced his staff and explained his director role, then circled among Deputy Director Susan Gordon, Chief of Staff Ed Mornston, Director of Plans and Programs Misty Tullar, and Deputy Director of Operations James Griffith.

“If it’s current service it’s under Jim’s portfolio, if it’s future it’s under Misty, if it’s messy it’s under Ed, and if it’s complicated it’s under Sue,” chuckled Cardillo, and the group went on to discuss a variety of topics ranging from acquisitions to data sharing to workforce development.

Gordon, who followed Cardillo, emphasized the need to put mission needs up front—“There is nothing good that is going to happen … if we’re not sure of what we need to achieve,” she said. Gordon also offered a status update on the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE).

“We’re doing well on IC ITE, we’re committed to it, and we’re driving hard in order to … get more data in and more applications for their use,” Gordon said, adding later in the session that IC ITE’s common desktop environment currently has nearly 30,000 users and will grow to 75,000 users across nine agencies within the next year. “It is a large endeavor … but [this] is one more piece of evidence that the stovepipes are coming out.”

Griffith spoke next, discussing how NGA can promote increased transparency and collaboration by encouraging information to be tagged at the lowest possible classification level. Mornston followed, emphasizing the importance of workforce training and development.

“We know that the workforce that we have today isn’t exactly the workforce that we need going forward, so we have to pay extra special attention to training, development, and education,” he said, highlighting in particular the need for an influx of data scientists who can help NGA tackle the challenges and opportunities of Big Data. “There are … a handful of new skill sets that haven’t been that important to us in the past that we clearly see as [useful going forward].”

NGA’s appetite for data scientists is indicative of another important trend described by Tullar, who noted a shift at NGA from tactical to strategic thinking.

“Our budgets reflect that. We have made seismic shifts … from [funding legacy systems] to moving us to where we need to go in the future,” she said. This includes focusing on new and innovative contracts with better value propositions.

NGA, Cardillo concluded, is committed to helping industry develop that next-generation value proposition.

“We owe you more … mission context,” he said. “We can do a better job of exposing the [mission context] so you can do a better job of taking the engineering wizardry… and making that last turn, which is ‘It does what for that mission, and it answers which intelligence question?’”

Staff meeting adjourned.

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