NGA Looks to Accelerate Commercial Acquisition of GEOINT Tech

NGA’s procurement leaders outline strategies to meet new strategic objective

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Accelerating its acquisition and integration of GEOINT technology is among the top strategic priorities of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), said NGA Director Vice Admiral Trey Whitworth, USN, at the GEOINT 2023 Symposium on Monday, May 22.

That’s exciting news for NGA’s commercial partners. During a follow-up panel on Wednesday, three senior leaders of NGA’s procurement team got into the weeds of their plans to better engage with commercial players in the sector.

“We’re thinking about how we transform our acquisition, tradecraft, and our contracting services, and doing it in a way that helps us enable effective, efficient, and really mutually beneficial ways for us to partner” with commercial vendors and service providers, said NGA Deputy Director Tonya Wilkerson.

One key component of NGA’s strategy is the Common Operations Release Environment (CORE), which aims to streamline and add consistency to software development projects involving the agency and external partners. NGA leaders announced CORE last year, and while it’s still under development, elements of CORE are making their way into operations, and current NGA requests for proposals include a requirement that the vendors use CORE, according to Tim Clayton, NGA director of acquisition oversight.

NGA is also adjusting its acquisition processes to become both faster and more supplier friendly. For example, it’s piloting a program with the potential to speed up the time needed to execute Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts. NGA is also using a tool called Advisory Down-Select, in which NGA alerts low-ranking companies early in a multi-stage contract-bidding process so that they have the option of saving time and money by withdrawing from an extended bid process that they’re unlikely to win.

“Most vendors decide, once they’ve gotten their debriefing on where they rack and stack, that they want to try something else,” said Dr. Howard Pierce, chief of NGA’s office of contract services for IT and mission support. “That helps the vendor save [on bid and proposal costs], and ultimately it helps us not have to review quite as many proposals.”

NGA also is taking steps to be more accommodating to emerging companies and those located outside the Beltway. One example is embracing “SCIF as a Service,” in which companies without their own “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF)”—a room where classified material can be shared and discussed—can rent time in a SCIF. There are multiple SCIF-as-a-Service facilities operating in the Washington, D.C. area, and also in St. Louis.

“It’s a great way to lower the barriers to being able to do business with us,” Wilkerson said.

Another example is NGA’s Industry Strategy Summit, which drew more than 1,700 participants in October. NGA chose to host the event online rather than in person so it could better accommodate partners not located near Washington.

“We still think that we’re going to try to reach the broadest audience through more web-enabled engagements that permit participation by smaller companies, and those who may have never even heard of us before,” Clayton said.

Achieving its goal of making it easier and faster for NGA to acquire and integrate GEOINT tech is more challenging and complex than simply announcing its strategic intent. As Pierce pointed out, many of NGA’s procurement practices are governed by decades-old regulations aimed at ensuring fairness among bids by major contractors, not speed, agility, or ease in working with startups.

Still, NGA is taking several steps toward meeting its objective, and Wilkerson believes it is making meaningful progress.

“We recognize a significant part of being able to accelerate is leveraging really what industry brings in terms of rapid access to new and emerging technology. And we want to fully embrace that,” Wilkerson said.

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