Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), whose purpose is to ‘Know the Earth…Understand the World…Show the Way,’ has repositioned its workforce to serve and protect the force and their families and continue to meet mission-critical needs.
NGA took several steps to help its workforce begin working remotely, such as weekly virtual town halls and teams to help work through the difficulties of connecting.
“We’re exploring a bunch of new tools,” said NGA Director Vice Adm. Robert Sharp during the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s (USGIF) inaugural GEOConnect webinar series. “[But] the big change for us was pushing people out of the building, and then taking some effort to connect those individuals. And so, we completely revamped our unclassified infrastructure.”
The agency has taken full advantage of commercial products and imagery and revised some of its workflows to produce some of its mainstream work at the unclassified level. NGA employees can do work on a product at an unclassified level before final touches are added at higher classification levels.
One example of remote unclassified work analysts can do is the data processing needed to develop machine learning tools. According to Sharp, analysts can do the data labeling and computer visualization needed to feed the machine learning algorithm.
Additionally, the agency pushed out 7,000 Common Access Card (CAC) readers to its workforce, which allows NGA workers to access certain intelligence networks and systems remotely.
“We are looking at how to take this opportunity to become stronger, smarter, better as it relates to priority mission areas in the national security strategy, national defense strategy, national intelligence strategy, and how we come together as a community to do so,” he said.
The agency also began working with companies to incorporate telework capabilities into existing contracts.
“Our team has been aggressive in leaning forward [to] protect and preserve our contracting force, while meeting our mission-critical needs. We’ve [worked] with all the companies and encouraged as much flexibility as we can have,” said Sharp. “Early on we said if your contract allows you to work from alternate sites and that’s what you want to do, then let’s do that.”
While these strategies came about due to the pandemic, Sharp expects that much of this new way of working for NGA will carry on after the COVID-19 crisis is over.
“The big change you’ll see is that some of these things are going to become the new norm for us, the new way of doing business,” said Sharp.