Groups clash over mapping agency's role
When users and producers of federal mapping data met recently, sharp disagreements
arose over how information technology can best meet national policy demands.
It was with some trepidation that Defense and civilian agencies viewed the creation
last October of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which combined Defense Department
and intelligence mapping organizations into a single group. Though NIMA's outreach efforts
have somewhat alleviated anxiety, tough talk on Capitol Hill about NIMA budgets is
generating new fears that Congress will underfund the agency.
"I'm not interested in efficiency or saving money or budgets," said James M.
Simon, chief of the CIA's Collection Requirements and Evaluation Staff, during a panel
discus-sion at the recent Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association TechNet
conference in Washington.
But lawmakers are concerned that NIMA and users of its data will turn to new tools and
technology before tapping available resources.
Diane S. Roark, staff member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,
said, "We could save a hell of a lot of money" by using geospatial data
collected by unmanned aerial vehicles and spacecraft and by developing common standards in
Budgetary problems are compounded, Roark said, because the government lacks a post-Cold
War policy. With the end of the Cold War, the country's surveillance and imagery needs
have changed, she said.
Twenty years ago, when most of its members had served in the armed forces, Congress
laid the groundwork for the imagery and geospatial information systems of today's NIMA,
"Congress now is mostly lawyers and accountants. They don't do business the way we
do. They're trained to avoid risk," he said. "Do you think they'd risk beggaring
the national treasury on a bet?"
Simon criticized the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which created a hierarchy of
positions and responsibilities for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling some of its effects
injurious. "Calling a uniformed bureaucrat a warfighter doesn't change much," he
What panelists agreed on was that agencies must change how they interact with NIMA.
Technology should be used to allocate resources to projects that improve our lives,
said William B. Wood, director of the State Department's Office of the Geographer and
Use of imagery analysis can't stop with a project or two, he said, but must be applied
First off, NIMA must realize that many of its customers don't understand imagery and
geospatial information analysis, how it's done or how they can use it, Wood said.
Simon complained that his intelligence officers were acting as clerks, preparing the
10,000 tasking orders they monthly send to NIMA, detailing what images they want shot,
when they want them shot and at what angle.
The solution is to work closer with NIMA to determine what the agency can do to not
only answer users' questions, but also fulfill their needs, said Richard J. Stakem, NIMA's
director of imagery analysis.
To that end, NIMA has created customer support teams that go to agencies, commands and
the services. What the teams look at first is context, Stakem said.
"If you don't know what they want to achieve, you can get them what they asked
for, but it won't be what they need," he said. "You first must understand the
nature of their problem, of their objective, and then you may be able to find a solution
no one thought of before."
When the government created NIMA, civilian intelligence agencies feared their needs
would be slighted in favor of those of the military and vice versa.
Whatever perceptions may exist as to who is getting better service, all customers get
access to the data at the same time-or at least that's the goal, Stakem said.
Different agencies often want the same information but presented differently, he said.
During the Iraqi war, for example, some civilian agencies wanted to know the location,
size and composition of forces so they could plan policy, Stakem said. But the Defense
Department wanted to know the location, size and composition of forces for operational
Using the data and analysis that NIMA can supply goes beyond just adding maps to
pictures and data, Wood said, to spatially organizing powerful information about the
earth's surface for political, geographical and diplomatic analysis.
The next step is making that information available to state and local governments. The
Federal Geospatial Data Committee, headed by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, is getting
federal agencies to organize and share information, Wood said.
That gets into murky waters for NIMA. Privacy issues prevent the agency from collecting
data domestically, Stakem said. NIMA can buy data from commercial collectors, but it runs
into problems melding that data with federal data and then releasing it to other users.
"The real challenge in buying data is to create a licensing agreement that
delineates what we want to do with the data," said Clay Ansell, commercial advocate
for NIMA's Commercial Office.
In May, NIMA began work with the General Services Administration and vendors to create
a geospatial and imagery catalog of hardware, software and services-all compliant with the
Defense Information Infrastructure's Common Operating Environment, Ansell said.
Some of the software NIMA uses includes ArcInfo and ArcView GIS from Environmental
Systems Research Institute Inc. of Redlands, Calif.; ImageStation from Intergraph Corp. of
Huntsville, Ala.; SoftPlotter from CIM Vision International of Torrance, Calif.; and
MapInfo Professional from MapInfo Corp. of Troy, N.Y.