The COVID-19 pandemic made a huge impact on every industry and operation. Vice Admiral Robert Sharp, Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said that the silver lining of the past two years has been that evolving conditions under the pandemic allowed for technical and cultural changes within the agency. Many of those changes occurred in IT infrastructure, as the agency branched out in new ways that are unique for an IC organization. The pandemic also allowed for the NGA to test boundaries in ways that they may not have done so, without having had the necessity to do so.
Throughout the pandemic, NGA members remained committed to supporting mission. In just the past few months, NGA has assisted with firefighting missions in the western United States, provided overwatch and support of operations in Afghanistan, as well as aided humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions in Haiti.
During the pandemic, NGA published four documents that help set a course for the agency and the GEOINT Enterprise. First, the National System for GEOINT Strategy for the entire U.S. Government GEOINT Enterprise, helped focus agency efforts. Next, the Tech Focus Areas 2021, helped readers understand the areas that NGA is exploring and where assistance is needed. This document describes five primary themes for NGA’s technology investments, advanced analytics and modeling, data management, modern software engineering, artificial intelligence, and the future of work. It also touched on how industry, academia and other industries can potentially collaborate with the agency. NGA also developed a more detailed Technology Strategy that specifies how the agency plans to deliver this future, “by empowering builders and makers, building with our usage in customers and treating data as a strategic asset,” Sharp explained.
The last document was the Director’s Intent, also called the Moonshot, which Sharp said is key to understanding how everything fits together. “[It] helps frame and align our efforts to provide trusted GEOINT whenever and wherever it is needed” Sharp said. This is a coordinated and deliberate effort to rise and meet the moment around foreign mission imperatives. The four fundamental imperatives are assured positioning, navigation, timing and targeting, accelerated tasking orchestration, data access and integrity, and analytic workflow modernization.
During this time, the agency has also continued to work on a new building located in St. Louis. “We’re actually building N2W with discovery and connection in mind,” Sharp said. “When it’s done, it will be unlike any facility in the IC.” Twenty percent of the space will be dedicated to unclassified work, allowing for private companies, academia, and the local community to innovate and collaborate with the agency.
Although the build is not complete, this collaboration has already begun. In July, NGA launched their Moonshot Labs at the T-Rex Innovation Center. “We view that as a pathfinder for the type of environment we want to establish at N2W for innovation in the unclassified space with industry and academia,” Sharp said. This past summer, the Moonshot Labs have hosted a cross-site Hackathon and a Polar Vortex Hack.
NGA continues to reach out to colleges and universities around the country for research and talent. Currently, the agency is funding grants at Washington University, conducting research at and co-hosting an annual geospatial conference with Saint Louis University, while maintaining two educational partnership agreements with Harris-Stowe State University and Gallaudet University. Sharp also announced that on the afternoon of October 5, 2021, NGA signed their third educational partnership agreement with the University of Missouri – St. Louis.
In addition to these partnerships, the agency is looking to maintain the relationships established with allies around the world. Sharp suggested that the country team up with others who are experts at data integration. The brand-new NGA Data Strategy details how the agency intends on leveraging data. “It’s goal is to make data easily accessible, improve its reusability and improve cross-domains efficiencies,” Sharp said. He added that data must be viewed as a strategic asset, so the agency’s objective is to create, manage and securely share trusted data with the speed, accuracy, and precision that customers’ missions demand.