The NSG Certification Program

NGA is developing a mandated certification program for NSG


While USGIF is in the process of standing up its Universal GEOINT Certification, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is developing a mandated certification program specifically applicable to the National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG), which includes all personnel in GEOINT-designated work roles in defense organizations, including NGA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and all branches of the U.S. armed services.

In October 2011, Michael Vickers, then Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD(I)), issued a memorandum calling for the accredited certification of intelligence professionals, including those at NGA. In the memo, Vickers cited the professionalization of the Intelligence Community workforce as “critical” to evolving mission demands, and called upon training and education to meet skill gaps in analysis, foreign language, cyber, human intelligence, counterintelligence, and technical intelligence.

In response to Vickers’ memo, then-NGA Director Letitia A. Long cited USGIF as a partner organization to help the agency meet this goal; and in October 2013, USGIF and NGA entered into a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) allowing the two organizations to share best practices and partner on defining a set of GEOINT competencies for the entire community.

NGA is building its GEOINT Professional Certification program to proficiency levels (PL) defined in Intelligence Community directives. To date, the agency has tested more than 7,000 personnel across the NSG at PL-I, which assesses knowledge of core competencies, including information specific to the Intelligence Community and GEOINT doctrine.

“From the test results we’re determining what people know and what they don’t know by service, agency, work role, and location,” said Timothy Hegarty, NGA’s chief learning officer and certification lead.

The agency aims to have all 10 of its planned PL-II full performance certifications available for testing by the end of 2015. The 10 performance areas will include aeronautical analysis, imagery analysis, GEOINT collections, geospatial analysis, cartography, applied science, human geography, geospatial data management, imagery science, and maritime analysis.

“These certifications are being designed by defense intelligence subject matter experts for the analysts serving the defense intelligence enterprise,” Hegarty said. “The DoD manual governing certification states GEOINT certification applies to any GEOINT-designated position within DoD. The word ‘accredited’ in the OUSD(I) memo is a distinguishing feature. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) is the designated accrediting organization for DoD certification programs developed under the OUSD(I) mandate. To comply with NCCA standards, all stakeholders, or people who will be tested, have to be represented in the certification development process. It’s not just NGA in a little room developing it.”

Hegarty said NGA is still determining the value proposition of developing and delivering PL-III and -IV certifications, which would be for advanced and expert levels, respectively.

“When you get to the advanced and expert level competencies go beyond just technical ability,” he said. “Soft skills such as the ability to communicate, influence, and negotiate are considerable factors.”

NGA and USGIF are exploring the potential for reciprocity between their certification programs and are considering a variety of possibilities. For example, could training under USGIF’s Universal GEOINT Credentialing Program satisfy a portion of NGA’s professional development maintenance requirements? Is there potential for an NGA analyst holding USGIF’s Universal GEOINT Certification to receive reciprocity for certain requirements under the NSG certification process? Or could an NGA analyst seeking USGIF’s Universal GEOINT Certification be exempt from one or more USGIF exams based on his or her NSG proficiency level?

“We’re trying to find what’s unique about each program but also not unique, and how we can determine defendable equivalencies between the programs,” Hegarty said. “The goal of transportable credentials between NGA and USGIF stakeholders is the real value proposition of the partnership. An extra benefit of sharing competencies with industry and academia is potentially preparing more DoD-ready GEOINT analysts to come into the [defense intelligence enterprise], and that’s wonderful.”

GEOINT certification requirements will also apply to all DoD contract personnel in GEOINT-designated work roles. NGA is developing a time-phased implementation plan to provide contractors with adequate notice and a reasonable amount of time to meet certification requirements. A number of options to test contractors are being considered, but there has been no final determination on the process or timeline.

“Contractors want the opportunity to be certified,” Hegarty said. “We need to implement a well thought-out plan that meets regulations and does not disadvantage competition.”

Similar plans covering DoD GEOINT contractors will also have to be implemented across other intelligence agencies and the military services. As with any strategic change in government, it will take time for the full effect to emerge, Hegarty said.

“There’s going to be a transferability between industry, academia, and the DoD that is pretty powerful at some point, but it is going to take some time before people accept the power and value of the credential,” Hegarty said.

Reese Madsen, chief learning officer for OUSD(I), sees the USGIF-NGA partnership as a model to hopefully apply to other intelligence disciplines but laments there is no USGIF equivalent for other functional areas.

“We rely so heavily on not just contracts but on industry as a whole and academia, and that is the trifecta of USGIF,” Madsen said.

In a written statement, NGA Director Robert Cardillo described the USGIF-NGA partnership as seeking to create a common understanding on GEOINT competencies between government and industry.

“Though champions of the GEOINT profession to different communities, we have shared goals and objectives that are independently and jointly focused on the art and science of geospatial intelligence and its advancement, the development of GEOINT practitioners, and the consequence of geospatial products, data, and services for our customers,” Cardillo said.

Return to Feature Story: Professionalizing the GEOINT Workforce

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