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NGA Touts App Store Idea


UPDATED: Link to Video of Long Speech; USGIF Head Says NGA Director At Cusp Of "Perfect Opportunity" For Deep Change, Lays Out Risks

New Orleans -- The new director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency unveiled major changes to how the organization does business, saying it must grow more nimble and push its products down to the lowest levels of the military.

"I want to fundamentally change the users experience," Letitia Long told the Geoint 2010 conference here. She spoke of building an intelligence community app store -- details to follow -- and of automating updates for crucial maps to free analysts and collectors of tedious work that can be better done automatically.

Her ultimate goal is geolocation data -- maps and all the data that can pushed onto them through sensors and intelligence collection -- available to any soldier, sailor or airman who needs to use it when they want to use it. There will be apps for that, unclassified websites for that and highly classified networks for that. All this will require careful management of access and of classification, Long told reporters after her keynote speech. I asked her if this meant she was aiming to give a squad leader and iPad or similar device which he could use to both collect intelligence and to use NGA data to build maps and to target. She said yes, adding: "That's pretty powerful. I don't think we understand the power of what we can do yet."

Several NGA watchers said Long's goals will require significant changes to the organization to attract money to the right places and to ensure the right people work together on the right stuff. Long said she would be making "tweaks" to NGA. At the same time, she also made very clear the organization should not count on getting any more money. "The Secretary of Defense has made it very clear he does not see our budgets increasing," she told reporters.

Keith Masback, a former senior official at NGA and now head of the independent United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, was upbeat about Long's attempts to remake NGA. "I think one of the really important phrases in Tish’s remarks is 'unrealized potential,'" he said. Long's vision, he said, is consistent with goals set over the years by her predecessors, but the dynamic changes in commercial GPS-related technologies are helping to drive change at the agency. Combine that with Long's determination to forge a more nimble organization and Masback believes the auguries are favorable.

“This is the perfect combination of a visionary leader, the increasing capability of geotechnologies from the commercial world and the efficiencies they can realize from the new building they will move into at Fort Belvoir,” he said, pointing to the 2.4 million square foot facility at Fort Belvoir, which will start operations in January. Custom-built for the agency, it is laced with enormous amounts of fiber-optic cables and is designed to accommodate new and improved technologies to cope with the agency's enormous needs for secure data storage and data sharing.

But, Masback added, Long and her agency must also manage important risks as they move ahead.

“The risks to NGA are the insatiable demands for their product from current operations and a very young workforce,” Masback said. Long told reporters NGA hired 800 people last year and the agency has grown substantially since 911, with most of those new employees being younger and less experienced. Those younger employees lack the training and seasoning that comes with years of experience and education, which means their effectiveness as analysts is circumscribed. But, Masback said, “they are geoint natives. They have grown up with this.” And Long can tap that hunger for new technologies and new applications as she pushes the organization to move faster and deliver intelligence lower and lower down the chain of command.

{Full disclosure: The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, which puts on the Geoint conference, paid for our airfare and hotel.]

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