Originally Broadcast on June 25, 2012
Host: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by the IBM Center for the Business of Government, which was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the Center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. And now, The Business of Government Hour.
Michael Keegan: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Michael Keegan, your host and Managing Editor of The Business of Government Magazine.
The end of the Cold War and the dawn of a new era in global security brought about tumultuous changes in the U.S. intelligence community. The shift in the threat environment, the evolving nature of conflict, and the revolutionary technologies of the digital age prompted many of these changes and a need to rethink the variant approaches to national security. To that end, leveraging intelligence based on the Earth’s physical and manmade attributes and the art and science of interpreting that information has become a valuable asset for the country.
As both a member of the U.S. intelligence community and a Department of Defense Combat Support Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency or NGA has sought to reduce timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial-intelligence or GEOINT for government leaders in responding to and anticipating our nation’s most critical national security challenges. How is NGA putting the power of geospatial-intelligence into the hands of its users? How does NGA support disaster relief, homeland security, and war fighter operations? And what does the future hold for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency? We will explore these questions and so much more with our very special guest, Letitia Long, Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Welcome Tish (ph), to the show, it’s great to have you.
Letitia Long: Thank you so much Michael. It’s great to be here.
Michael Keegan: So before we go into specific initiatives, I’d like to understand a little bit more about the history and evolving mission of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Could you give us an overview?
Letitia Long: I certainly can. First of all, we were established as an agency in 1996. That was the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. The origins really came out of Desert Shield/ Desert Storm when there was the recognition that we weren’t getting as much as we could out of our imagery intelligence, imagery analysis, and our mapping initiatives. They were separate organizations, in fact, spread across about six organizations. So in 1996, the Defense Mapping Agency, the imagery analysis portions of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency were brought together along with some smaller organizations to create the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.
We started down that path to really merge the two disciplines and 9 11, 2001 really accelerated that. So that is when we really began to – while we had moved both disciplines into the same agency – that’s when we really started to integrate them into what we call geospatial-intelligence or GEOINT today. So we’re really getting the benefit of those two disciplines being merged together.
Michael Keegan: So with such an important mission, such a critical mission, I’d like to understand the operational footprint of NGA. Would you tell us a little bit about how it’s organized, the size of its budget, number of FTEs?
Letitia Long: So, we’re about sixteen thousand strong and that’s government personnel, both civilian and military as well as contractors. Unfortunately, I can’t give you our exact budget amount but I can tell you we receive our resources from both the national side of the intelligence community, so the Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper – that’s in the National Intelligence Program – and from the DOD side of the house, the Military Intelligence Program. So we get priorities from both sides. They flow from the president through the Director of National Intelligence and from the Secretary of Defense as well as from the combatant commanders.
Our footprint is global. Those sixteen thousand folks are all around the world. About ten thousand are here in Washington D.C., about three thousand in St. Louis, Missouri which is part of our heritage out of Air Force mapping, and then the rest around the world – global footprint. So when I say around the world, we certainly have a presence in Afghanistan and in some other areas where we have troops on the ground. We’re embedded with them but we’re also embedded with each of the ten combatant commanders so Central Command, Pacific Command, European Command. We’re also embedded in other federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, as well as in the intelligence community with CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Part of our way of doing business is to be embedded with our mission partners so we understand their priorities, we understand their up tempo. We are often able to anticipate their needs, even before they might know they need something, and therefore provide that support, so very proactive. We are a combat support agency in the Department of Defense. We’re also a national intelligence agency.
Michael Keegan: What about your role leading NGA? Could you tell us a little bit more about the duties and responsibilities of the Director of the NGA and what areas are under your purview?
Letitia Long: First of all, I’ve got a terrific job. I have so much fun every single day as the Director of NGA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. It’s a great agency with a very important mission; to provide that geospatial-intelligence where it’s needed, when it’s needed to our combat forces, to our military forces, to the policy maker, to the first responder, as well as to the rest of the intelligence community.
So there is no such thing as a typical day but many of my days are filled with – if I’m in Washington– I’m getting out and about the agency or some of the other intelligence community sites here in Washington D.C. I probably travel thirty to forty percent of the time so I’m traveling to mission partners around the world. I’m traveling to locations where NGA has personnel around the world. So I’m ensuring that we’re doing everything we can on a daily basis.
I actually have two roles, one as the director of the agency and the other as the geospatial-intelligence functional manager. So for the Secretary of Defense and for the Director of National Intelligence, I am responsible for all GEOINT resources, not just those within NGA. The military services have GEOINT resources as well as some of the other organizations in the intelligence community. So what that means is I’m ensuring that we’re not duplicating effort, that there’s a clear delineation of who is doing what.
I set standards for trade craft and training so that we are all trained to the same level and providing the same type of information in the same types of formats. We specify standards. For instance, for the Department of Defense, when they are acquiring a new system that will provide GEOINT, we need to make sure it’s interoperable with other systems so we set those standards.
Michael Keegan: So we touch a real bust portfolio (ph) under your leadership. What are some of the biggest challenges you are facing at NGA and in the broader intel community?
Letitia Long: One challenge, and I like to look at challenges as opportunities, is the amount of information that we’re collecting and as far as I am concerned, data is good; more data is better. But the challenge that it provides and, therefore, the opportunity is how do we deal with all of that information? How do we know where to go through all of that imagery and decide what area to actually analyze, what area to actually store? I mean, that’s a real challenge. A challenge, again, an opportunity, is integrating new types of sensors, new types of phenomenology.
So when folks sometimes think imagery, they think pictures. Well, it’s not only pictures that you can see. It’s full motion video. It’s wide area and high definition full motion video which means that’s a lot of information. It’s infrared imagery so that’s imagery that shows heat so we can tell if a nuclear power plant is operating or not. That’s certainly our mapping information. It’s social media information. It’s anything that can tell us where something is on the face of the Earth – because everything is somewhere on the face of the Earth at a point in time – and it’s also providing the context. “Why is it there? What are they doing? What might they do next?” so that we can anticipate what might happen and why.
Michael Keegan: Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get where you are now and what brought you to your current leadership position right now?
Letitia Long: So, I actually started out with a Navy research lab. My background is engineering. I have an Undergrad in electrical engineering and a Masters in mechanical engineering. And I started working at a Navy lab, the David Taylor Research Center, building intelligence collection systems for submarines. And I did that for about eight years so I got a really good foundation in engineering and project and program management and then I moved to naval intelligence. So I dealt with naval intelligence as my primary customer. I then moved to naval intelligence to manage those programs.
From there, I really received a good footing not only in program management but actually a good introduction to the budget, resource, and program management, how to deal with Capital Hill, the congress and the congressional staff, as well as just, you know, how to manage and lead people and deal with people. So, from naval intelligence I moved to the Defense Intelligence Agency, so from a single service to a joint agency. I’ve also spent some time at the Central Intelligence Agency where I was working for the Director of Central Intelligence. I worked in the office of the Undersecretary of Defense. I helped stand up the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.
Back to naval intelligence as the Deputy Director, back to DIA as the Deputy Director, and now this, marvelous really, really wonderful experience as the Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. So I’ve worked at the service level. I’ve worked at the OSD level, the joint level, and, really, I feel that my jobs were preparing me for this opportunity to lead one of our combat support agencies.
Michael Keegan: Well, the experience and the fact that it is so broad and that it led you to your current role – I’m interested in understanding what is the most important lesson that has impacted your role as a GA Director?
Letitia Long: Probably the most important lesson is that it’s all about teamwork. No one does what they do on their own. There certainly are individual successes but it is the network that you develop, it is the set of mentors that you acquire along the way, and it really is about teamwork. I just think you can’t go wrong when you are developing that team.
One of the things that we have learned – and it’s been a painful lesson as an intelligence community – is that you need diversity of thought. If everyone’s got the same mindset, thinking the same way, then we’re not thinking like our adversary. We’re not staying a step ahead. And so, being as diverse as we can, being – you know, inclusion and including all of that diverse thought, that’s being a part of a team. And I’m not talking consensus, lowest common denominator. I’m talking about pushing and prodding and poking at the answer and what if and red teaming and really considering all of the possibilities.
Michael Keegan: How is NGA putting the power of geospatial-intelligence into the hands of its users? We will ask its director, Letitia Long, when our conversation continues on the Business of Government Hour.
Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I’m Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is Letitia Long, Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Tish, NGA has been changing the way it does business, moving from a target-based model to an activity-based, issue-driven approach. Integral to this is your vision of putting the power of GEOINT into the users’ hands. Would you elaborate on how NGA developed this vision and more particularly, how is it pursuing the challenges of the way of changing how it does business?
Letitia Long: So, the way NGA developed this vision was actually talking to the workforce. I spent my first three months on the job walking around, visiting as many NGA sites as I could, listening and learning from the workforce. And I told them as I started in the job, I didn’t have a mandate for change. I wasn’t coming in to reorganize the agency. And, in fact, I didn’t have “Okay, this is what we’re going to do. This is where we’re going,” which might sound a little odd for a leader. But, in fact, I felt that the agency was on a good course and so I wanted to listen and learn from the workforce. And I heard a couple of things from them.
One; our analysts were spending an inordinate amount of time looking for our own information because information was organized in databases that were organized around the collection system and the process upon which they were built. The second thing that I heard from the workforce was because they spent so much time looking for information; they weren’t spending enough time actually analyzing the information. That’s why we have analysts. It’s to provide that value added. It’s to provide that context.
So putting the power of GEOINT in the hands of the user, the user being the NGA analyst, the user being our customer, was to make our information more readily accessible, easy to access, easy to use. So it really means decoupling our data from the applications, from the infrastructure; common infrastructure, a common set of applications, data that is easily serviceable, if you will.
And think now the internet. You don’t have to go to ten different websites to find something. You can simply do a search. Whatever your search engine is, it goes out to all of the various websites and databases and data holdings out there and returns an answer. That’s what we’re trying to provide for our analysts. So you don’t have to know where the information is. They don’t have to go query database A, B, C, D, and E to get a complete picture of a particular issue that they’re working on.
So what we’ve done is we’ve created an integrated analytic environment that the analysts enter and they have access to all of the information through a set of applications. Think your smart phone, think a smart tablet. That’s the environment that we’re creating for our analysts. And, oh, by the way, we’re also creating a similar environment for our customers so that they can come in and find information or, if they can’t, enter into a chat with one of our analysts to then be able to serve themselves if they can or, if not, have some assistance.
Michael Keegan: So in a sense you’re really transforming NGA’s service delivery model?
Letitia Long: We are. We are moving from what has been a full service model for really just about everything we do, to a three tiered service delivery model; self service, assisted service, and full service. We’ll always maintain that full service. You know, I don’t expect the president or the Director of National Intelligence to be surfing out websites. We’re going to serve up exactly what they’re looking for. But for many of our customers, many of our users, they can reach in and if it is a standard product, pull it themselves. If it’s something where they want to customize it, if the application is there, it’s intuitive and easy to use, they can customize it. If it’s not and they need our help, we’ll be monitoring their movements. We’ll be in those chat rooms. And we’ll be able to proactively assist them.
As part of the self service, we also want our users to be able to contribute information. So think of that soldier out there on an operation. They pull the latest imagery or the latest map or the latest GEOINT. They have that for their operation but if they see something as they are moving that is different than what we have in our database holding, they can take a digital picture, upload it. Same with a first responder.
Think of someone from FEMA out on an urban search and rescue. I mean, just take the tornadoes that unfortunately we just experienced. We, through our smart tablets, smart devices, were able to provide FEMA the latest imagery on an unclassified device, commercial imagery, for them to deploy immediately to a sector. But they were seeing some things that occurred after the last collection of imagery so they were able to annotate that through text and upload it to our network. We could then get it out to all of the rescue teams. They’ll take handheld digital photography, upload that, and we get that out on the network.
So a three tiered delivery model but also very important in there is user as a contributor.
Michael Keegan: That’s a nice transition to the idea of mobile apps and what you’re doing in the area of realizing your vision about putting power in the users’ hands. Mobile apps would be a perfect opportunity to do that. Could you tell us a little bit about your efforts in leveraging the use of mobile apps to achieve the strategic vision you’ve outlined and perhaps could you highlight some of the most recently developed apps?
Letitia Long: So, let’s stay with the first responder. Really, a growing part of our business area is humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery operations. So for the first responder, we’ve been able to develop a whole suite of applications. In the past, an event would occur. We would go into production mode. We would produce hardcopy atlases. So think of your Rand McNally map atlas. We would produce the same with before and after imagery, what we call gridded reference graphics. So, you know, the first responder would know right where to go. We would print those and they’re about one hundred pages depending on the extent of the damage, print hundreds of copies for each of the teams. They would go to their section of the atlas and rip out the three four, or five pages they needed. The rest of it went on the shelf. If things continued to develop with the incident – think hurricane, think inland flooding – we’ve have to go back to our production mode.
You know, the initial would just be what did the hurricane do along the coast? If inland flooding resulted, we would have to produce more because bridges could be washed away, you know, whole areas could be washed away.
Now it’s immediate. As soon as we get that imagery passed, that’s downloaded to the tablet, the smart device. They have that immediately. They don’t have to wait for us to produce. They don’t have to wait for us to ship or drive them or fly the documents there. It’s much lighter. It’s green because we’re not printing; we’re not killing trees and printing, and, again, the ability for the first responders to input data. So we developed that map atlas application.
We developed a data entry application. We developed an application that is a compass that allows the first responder to find their way. If you think about the tornadoes that hit in Joplin, Missouri last summer, whole cell phone towers were down, street signs, whole communities were gone. And as they were responding and trying to drive through, they had no idea where they were. So we were able to give them a compass. And we also maintain for the federal government a database of all critical infrastructures. So where are all of the hospitals? Where are all of the medical facilities? Where are all of the churches and schools, daycare centers, hospice? So if they knew there was, you know, a hospice center in a particular area of town, to see if the folks needed to be evacuated but yet they couldn’t navigate their way there because there were no cell phone towers and no way to get GPS, we had a built in compass that allowed them to get there.
We didn’t have that at the time. We were still in our hard copy mode last summer but this fall with hurricane Irene, we were in the process of developing about a dozen applications and we said “What better way to test them than just send them out?” And that’s what we did. FEMA has said this has been a real game changer for them. They are able to do so much more in a much shorter period of time.
Michael Keegan: So what does the future hold with apps for NGA? Do you see it expanding even more and in what ways?
Letitia Long: I see it expanding in a couple of ways. I can’t think of all of the applications. Just like you have on your smart phone, you know, you’ll have the ability to download a new app and you’ll say “Wow, why didn’t we think of that before?” Well, it’s exactly the same for a first responder, for our military forces, even for our policy makers. We have sent an iPad into the oval office and so President Obama is beginning to experiment with being able to interact with the information, to layer on different types of information with the map being the basic, the imagery intelligence overlaying that, with human geography information. So we have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan how important the tribal information is. And being able to overlay that, to understand what’s happening in a particular area may give us an indication of why.
I also see us developing more applications for our workstations within the workplace so it’s not only apps for mobile devices. It’s apps for our integrated analytic environment and we launched the environment in a beta test mode, so a test mode, across not only NGA but the intelligence community. We already have requests for hundreds of applications so as analysts begin to work in this environment; I think the sky is the limit.
Michael Keegan: So you’ve done a wonderful job, Tish, of explaining your vision of putting the power of GEOINT in the users’ hands and how you’re doing it and how you are changing your service delivery model. I’d like to understand how you are broadening and deepening your use of analytics and making sense and adding new value to the products and services that you provide. Could you give us a sense on how you are doing this, how you are enhancing NGA’s use of analytics and, more particularly, how are you changing and moving it more from institutional, beyond the tradecraft kind of thing, and enhancing the phenomenology?
Letitia Long: So, the two are actually linked. As I said a little bit earlier, as we make our information readily accessible, we free up time for the analysts to spend more time on the analysis. Plus, the integrated analytic environment that we have developed allows the analysts to have access to so much more information at their fingertips. We developed the applications to operate on that information. Now we can do things like track the transit of a ship and see what the reaction might be by a particular country at the same time.
Being able to overlay different types of information in real-time and be able to see patterns, to be able to, you know, visualize, because that is a core competency for the NGA analysts to be able to think spatially and to lay the temporal aspects over time, so be able to visualize what’s actually happened in the past. An analyst would be piecemealing (ph) that together after the fact. If we can do that in real-time or near real-time, we’re able to provide a picture to, you know, our customers, so much more quickly.
Like-wise, as I said, being able to see patterns in information. Simply reading text like from a signals intelligence report or a human intelligence report, it’s hard to make correlations sometimes. But if you can put that visually, you can see correlations in the data that you might not have been able to see before. So that pattern, the correlation, and again the overlays. Again, it’s not only the geospatial-intelligence. It is the signals-intelligence, the human-intelligence, the social media.
Take the earthquake and tsunami in Japan early last year or March of last year. We were able to look at Twitter feeds. Where were folks Tweeting from that didn’t have access to water, that didn’t have access to shelter? We didn’t really care what the message said. We weren’t looking at the internals. We were just simply looking at where could we vector the first responder? So, again, being able to incorporate many different types of data easily allows the analyst to look through more things in real-time.
You mentioned phenomenology. Again, so, bringing in new types of phenomenologies, developing new analytic tools for our analysts to make sense of that information is key. I said earlier data is good; more data is better.
Michael Keegan: Well, you know, given the significant amount of data that is being collected, processed, and analyzed by your agency, how do you effectively manage this effort in an era of physical constraint with tight budgets? And the ultimate ability of your agency mission is to provide meaningful data so decisions can be made. How do you do this in an era of physical constraint?
Letitia Long: So, Michael, you just hit on a key challenge for us and that is dealing with large amounts of data. We have actually been working on some analytic tools and working with DARPA, the United States Air Force, and other of our mission partners to really try and vector us to be smart about what we collect, what we process, and therefore what we analyze and store.
So this is something that is called activity-based intelligence. If we can use the analytic tools, use the technology to vector us to a particular area of interest and only store, transmit, and analyze that which we are interested in and ignore the rest. That is where we are headed. Now, we don’t do it by ourselves. Our industry partners are key in this. We have learned a lot from the motion picture industry but also many of our defense contractors as well as some of the smaller startups are helping us understand how we work this activity-based intelligence to, again, just focus on the activity of interest.
Michael Keegan: And it’s interesting, you’ve outline the vision that you’ve put forward of putting the power of GEOINT into users’ hands, the idea of activity-based, issue-driven approach. I’m interested to know how are you measuring and evaluating the progress being made in achieving this strategic vision?
Letitia Long: So, Michael we recognized from the beginning that we needed to have metrics so that we could measure and evaluate how we were doing in achieving the vision. And so we setup a very simple framework and there are four pieces to the framework.
The first is content. We wanted to ensure that there was access to one hundred percent of our content; easy access, transparent access. So, there was always access to one hundred percent of our content. It was just very time intensive, very laborious in getting to it, so easy access to the content. That is metric number one.
Metric number two is to develop an open IT environment and that is part of the user as contributor. The user needs to be able to enter into that environment. Now, we work with a lot of classified information and when I say open, I don’t mean unsecure. It still has to be secure. We still operate at multiple classification levels, but an open environment in that it’s easy for our analysts to get around in, it’s easier for our developers to contribute applications, and it’s easy for our users to reach in and see our information as well as contribute.
The third metric is customer service. It is all about the user’s experience so this needed to be an environment that was intuitive and easy to use. And what we’re using are business analytics to help us understand whether or not we are achieving that. So what websites are they going to? What applications are they using? If an app is not being used it is either not delivering the intended value or it’s too hard to use. So we’re trying to listen to the user as we go through this, so business analytics are key.
Then the fourth metric is analysis, that deepening analysis. Are we providing better information, better knowledge for our key customers? Are we anticipating what could happen? Are we anticipating what they might need and what they are going to ask, such that they have it before they even ask it or even know they need to ask it? So it’s a simple framework but I think very powerful in measuring how we are doing.
Michael Keegan: How does NGA support disaster relief, homeland security, and war fighter operations? We will ask Letitia Long, Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.
Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is Letitia Long, Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Tish, you mentioned earlier that NGA is a Department of Defense Combat Support Agency and when we discussed the mobile apps, you also identified NGA as having a role in supporting disaster relief and homeland defense operations. I’d like to delve a little bit more into the latter part. Could you tell us more about NGA’s role in disaster relief and homeland defense operations and how has it evolved over the last decade?
Letitia Long: Absolutely Michael. First of all, I have to lead off with the caveat that we must be asked by a lead federal agency to respond to a natural disaster or any homeland security event here in the United States. We are mostly about the foreign threat but the foreign threat can come to U.S. shores so homeland defense, and then of course the disaster recovery operations.
And so what we would do in a typical operation, we are monitoring world events to include weather all around the world. So we’re monitoring weather here at home also and if we would see an event about to happen whether it be a hurricane, an earthquake, a tornado, wildfires, oil spills, we are at the ready with the latest commercial imagery to produce product and provide information whether it is FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, or the United States Coastguard. Whoever has the lead for a particular event, we would be working side by side with them. Again, they would ask for our support and asking is a very easy thing to do.
We have teams embedded, really, in all of those organizations so we’re talking with them on a daily basis and they simply need to ask and we are there to provide. We are providing map graphics, we’re providing imagery, and increasingly, we’re providing analysis. So for instance, as we are looking, you know, with the United States weather service, on the track of a tornado, you’d want to know if there were mobile home communities in the track of that tornado because that may sustain damage. And so we would focus, you know, in that particular area.
When we had flooding with hurricane Irene, we were – and this is a new one for me – we were analyzing swine lagoons – bodies of water near swine where waste runoff can be – and if that floods and gets into the water supply, we’d want to know that. So we were actually doing that analysis, working with some local universities in North Carolina. So, you know, again, those who were responsible were ready in case water supply became contaminated. So it is about the imagery. It is about the physical and manmade features. But it’s also, again, about human geography and different data sets and how we can overlay those to create a full picture.
Michael Keegan: And that full picture, it’s all of this information, but it has to be shared and it has to be shared across the community spectrum. So I’m interested in understanding how you are helping or what your role is in creating and forging a collaborative information technology environment across the intel community. What are some of the benefits of doing this and the challenges associated with it?
Letitia Long: So if you remember back to the framework that we created to measure how we are doing in achieving our vision, one of those four is an open IT environment. It doesn’t work if only NGA has an open IT environment. The whole community, because we are interconnected as we should be, needs to have that environment, again, properly secured with the proper security layers. But the ability to easily exchange information, the ability to mash up – I talked about it’s not only the GEOINT but us being able to help others visualize the other types of intelligence information – so mash that up together from a multi-INT perspective so that you can get the full picture.
So we really are working together as a community. The Director of National Intelligence has made integrated intelligence his main focus and a part of that is the intelligence community information technology initiative. So working as a community, we want to collapse our infrastructures to one so that we’re not all building a common transport layer. We’re all going to build our unique applications for our unique tradecraft but some of our applications are the same. We all need to manage money. We all need to manage our people. So if we could have one or even only two or three instead of sixteen, that’s a huge savings. That’s efficiencies from a resource perspective. It’s efficiencies from an operational perspective also.
Michael Keegan: That’s important. I also want to turn to procurement, procuring essential mission support products and services is critical to NGA in order to meet its mission. To that end, how have you sought to redesign and make the acquisition process within NGA more agile? What needs to be done in this area?
Letitia Long: As we embarked upon the implementation of our vision, we established a number of initiatives. Some of those were regionally focused on areas of the world. One was on leadership and developing our leaders. And one was on agile acquisition. We recognized if we were going to be introducing new capability in a rapid way so that our analysts could take advantage of those applications and all of the information that we collect, we needed an agile way in which to do that.
I talked earlier about the applications that we’re developing. I can’t envision all of the applications that we might come up with. I won’t even say need – that we might be able to develop. I don’t know how I contract for an application that I can’t even think of today and so we have been working with our overseers to really try and develop a flexible and responsive way to contract and procure for goods and services. And a good example of that is one contract that we’ve recently left and one that we are in the process of working through.
The one that we recently awarded, we actually awarded to about a half a dozen teams and so they all qualified for various portions of the contract and now we can go to them as we’re ready to actually procure a particular good or a particular service. They’ve already qualified. We don’t have to go through the full procurement activity. So that’s one way of decreasing the time that it takes.
Another contract that we’re in the middle of actually awarding, and we’ve just started on this so we’ve just gone through the request for procurement, is also a very unique teaming way so that we would have what we call a prime of primes contractor who can then bring in different team members depending on what we’re looking for. And we have set this up in alignment, as you would guess, with our vision. So an area for content services, an area for application services, an area for user services, and so the prime can team with different companies depending on what they want to bid on. So we’re trying to be creative upfront so that time to get on contract is greatly reduced because it is all about time to market. It’s about how quickly we can get a new capability in the hands of our users or in the hands of our customers.
Michael Keegan: Well, it’s interesting; you’ve ventured as far as our conversation, the use of commercial satellite imagery as a key enabler for you folks at NGA. Would you elaborate on the ways you’re using commercial imagery to meet mission and to what extent is the commercial imagery integrated to the top secret domain?
Letitia Long: We use commercial imagery in a number of ways. I’ve talked already to the first responder so the humanitarian assistance, disaster recovery. It’s unclassified so we can readily share it at the federal, state, and local level. The Gulf oil spill is a great example. We were providing product every single day not only to Department of Homeland Security and the Coastguard who needed to have that situation awareness but we were providing it to local chambers of commerce so they could, with surety, convince the public there is no oil coming to our beaches. We are still open for vacation. So very wide range of application there.
It is also extremely important in the coalition environment. So take Afghanistan today. ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, is made up of over thirty countries. Many of those, we don’t have classified sharing arrangements with. Commercial imagery is unclassified. We can readily share that. Likewise, if one of our policy makers wants to make a point in a situation where they’re having, you know, a meeting with one of their counterparts – or at the U.N. Ambassador Rice as recently used some commercial imagery to make the point of what is going on in Syria. So, we use it across our mission set. It’s extremely important because of the unclassified nature of that imagery.
Michael Keegan: Tish, geospatial technology is playing a vital role as the U.S. military works to develop greater understanding of the social, cultural, and behavioral aspects of the populations in which we operate. Moreover, geospatial information is important because culture is very tied to geography. To that end, would you elaborate on NGA’s efforts in advancing the use of so-called human geography or, more particularly, mapping the human factor?
Letitia Long: First of all, let me explain human geography so our listeners understand. Human geography is an analytic approach used in describing spatial and temporal patterns of human behavior in the context of their environment. And so we want to incorporate human geography into our geospatial intelligence analysis. Not only do we want to, we are doing that today. Fully considering the human element is critical to understanding why people do what they do, where they do it, and how that can influence the environment.
Another part of, you know, human geography, just take some countries in Africa that are lacking in water. Water is a key natural resource so to understand the natural rainfall, to understand where wells are or where they should be dug, to understand where the vegetation is, where the farming is, I mean, that is a way to actually render assistance if an organization would so choose to do. So, again, understanding how people interact with the environment is another layer of information that we add to our geospatial-intelligence.
Michael Keegan: I want to turn the conversation inside a little bit and talk about your recent efforts to consolidate East coast operations with the new opening of the NGA headquarters of Fort Belvoir in Virginia. What are the organizational, operational, and technical benefits of this move and could you tell us a little bit about the gold certification that you received for the building?
Letitia Long: First of all, we are extremely fortunate to have a new facility at Fort Belvoir in North. This part of BRAC, Base Realignment and Closure 2005. So for the first time we have been have able to consolidate our East coast operations into one facility. We have a little over nine thousand folks there coming from seven different locations in the national capital region. If you live and work in and around Washington D.C., you know what traffic is like.
Some of our folks’ days were spent traveling from site A to site B with maybe getting some work done in between. Being able to have everyone co-located into this facility brings just extreme benefit. First of all, it cuts down on time spent traveling, you know, from meeting site to meeting site. But more importantly, it gives us the opportunity to have impromptu meetings. When someone cancels out of a class at the college, there is someone else readily available to fill in. Otherwise, that was a thirty minute drive from any of the other locations. Being able to have our developers in the same place as our analysts, in the same place as our collection managers is huge.
I mean the meetings that just happen as folks pass each other in the hallway, but it’s also just much easier to schedule a meeting and know that, at most, you’re going to go eight flights, you know, from one side of the office building to the other. It was built with collaboration in mind. So the analyst workspaces are open. All of the workspaces are open to encourage that collaboration. There are lots of meeting spaces and as I walk about which I love to do, I see folks meeting all over the place and, you know, there are whiteboards. So they’re just brainstorming and coming up with solutions to problems. We have folks who haven’t seen each other for years who now have the benefit of being in the same building. They would email, they would video teleconference, but being able to have all of that brainpower in one place to really work on our hard problems is already paying benefits.
You asked about our gold LEED certification, LEED being Leadership in Engineering and Design. There are three levels. We were actually going for the lowest level. Gold is the middle level. I think it’s silver, gold, platinum, not sure. But the gold means that from the design through construction through operation, have been thinking about the environment. The design; we used chilled water through the beams to cool the facility. We use all of the proper lighting fixtures to ensure that we get the most lighting for the least amount of energy. The design was situated so that we could take advantage of the sun. All of our building materials were thought about with the environment in mind from things as simple as local manufacturers so we weren’t trucking from, you know, all the way or even halfway across the country. We used a lot of local manufacturing.
So many things went into the design and then the continuing operation. I mean, we have a pool where we catch rainwater which we can use to irrigate the grounds. We can also use it for backup water to keep our computer center going if we use the county water supply. Lights turn off when you leave a room. After a certain period of inactivity the lights will go off. Everything about the design, we really thought about the environment.
Michael Keegan: What does the future hold for NGA? We will ask its director, Letitia Long, when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.
Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Michael Keegan, your host, and our guest today is Letitia Long, Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Tish, what are some of your other key goals for the agency over the next year and your long-term goals for the tenure at the agency?
Letitia Long: A couple of other goals that I have in the near term are to continue to work with our national and international partners. And I haven’t really said much about our international partners but we have many relationships where we burden-share or look for areas where we can opportunity-share across some of our common national security issues. Another near term goal is to continue working towards the open IT environment so that we have truly an efficient operating model.
I would say in the longer term, I’m really looking to ensure we have a balance between operational and strategic issues. That’s a constant balancing act if you will to ensure that we are putting enough emphasis on the strategic. I mean, the operation day-to-day is of utmost important but if we’re not focused on the strategic, we won’t be able to do that day-to-day. And then I guess I’d just say in closing, I certainly want to leave the agency in a better place than it was when I walked through the door and I think we’ve got a number of initiatives underway that will help see that through.
Michael Keegan: And one of the ways to do that is to make sure you have a well-trained, technical, and highly skilled workforce. What are you doing in the areas to cultivate that?
Letitia Long: We hire continually so even in an era of declining resources, one of the things that I want to ensure that we are able to do is continue to hire. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the nineties after the Cold War and we stopped hiring for almost a decade. We want to manage our attrition and be able to continue to hire. And we hire through as many venues as possible whether it’s a virtual career fair, an in-person career fair, online applications, word of mouth. We are constantly looking for a very broad set of skills. So it’s a very diverse skill set that we would hire. Anyone with skills from mathematics to engineering, history, political science, international relations, geography, geology, anthropology, economy, statistics; it’s a broad array of skills that we’re looking for.
Michael Keegan: So as you think about the future and in particular there is a constant struggle to achieve proper balance between meeting the demands of today’s mission and anticipating what you’re going to need for tomorrow. To that end, what future technologies do you see as important to NGA in the coming years?
Letitia Long: There are an array of technologies that are important that we are investing in now and I would think we will continue to invest in. How we deal with large amounts of data, how we ingest, it, how we store it, how we analyze it, so analytic tools. I talked about how we store it, how we decide what to store, as well as how we store it, so storage technologies. Content management; how we manage all of that information. Knowledge management; how we transfer knowledge from one individual to another. Advanced sensors and phenomenologies; not so much the development of those sensors because we don’t typically develop sensors but we specify the requirements that those sensors need to fulfill. And then how do we analyze that information? How do we tease knowledge out of all of that information, so investing there on how to work with the new phenomenologies? I think that probably about covers the spectrum of what we’re working on.
Michael Keegan: So, Tish, what advice would you give someone who is considering a career in public service?
Letitia Long: I would say do it. It is an extremely rewarding career and just an outstanding opportunity to be able to serve our country, knowing that what you are doing, every single day, is making a different. It’s making a difference for our military forces. It’s making a difference for our first responders, for our policy makers. We’re saving lives. I mean, what we do actually saves lives and we get that feedback almost every day from our mission partners who understand and appreciate what it is we’re doing. So it’s an extremely rewarding career. You get that immediate feedback and that immediate gratification knowing what you are doing is making a difference in the security of our nation.
Michael Keegan: That is a wonderful perspective. This has been a great conversation. I want to thank you for your time today but more importantly I’d like to thank you for your dedicated service to the country.
Letitia Long: Thank you very much Michael. And if I might add, I did talk about the diverse skill set that we are always looking for at NGA. I would encourage your listeners to visit our website at www.NGA.mil or like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. We are out there. It’s a great agency with a great mission.
Michael Keegan: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Letitia Long, Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Be sure to join us next week for another informative, insightful, and in-depth conversation on improving government effectiveness. For The Business of Government Hour, I’m Michael Keegan and thanks for joining us.
Host: This has been The Business of Government Hour. Be sure to visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today’s conversation. Until next week it’s businessofgovernment.org.
Announcer: This has been The Business of Government Hour. Be sure to join us every Saturday at 9:00 a.m., and visit us on the Web at businessofgovernment.org.
There, you can learn more about our programs, and get a transcript of today's conversation.
Until next week, it's businessofgovernment.org.