Commercial imagery boosts efficiency, savings for NGA

Commercial imagery boosts efficiency, savings for NGA

With the rise of commercial satellite imagery providers such as Google's Terra Bella, Planet Labs and BlackSky, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is developing new acquisition methods to make its operations more cost-effective and efficient.  NGA Director Robert Cardillo discussed the changes in a rare public briefing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Sept. 27.

"The era of multiyear, billion-dollar contracts for services that last decades have had their time," he told the committee. "We have to become more agile and revisit fundamental acquisition strategies."

NGA launched a commercial geospatial intelligence strategy nearly a year ago to help it conduct nimbler acquisitions and make better use of unclassified information. It has partnered with the General Services Administration on the Commercial Initiative to Buy Operationally Responsive GEOINT (CIBORG), which will smooth commercial purchases of geospatial intelligence data, products and services.

Cardillo said the CIBORG contract model, which will be completed early next year, will give the agency the ability to try commercial services in small amounts in a "let me swipe my credit card and explore opportunities" approach rather than committing to a years-long contract with a company.

Senators at the hearing encouraged Cardillo's innovative data acquisition efforts. "That sounds constructive," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said. "I'd like to see you turn the dial way up on that."

NGA has been moving on other acquisition fronts as well. On Sept. 12, it signed a $20 million contract to subscribe to Planet Labs' imagery products and services. The contract will allow the Defense Department and intelligence community to access the company's global imagery, which is updated every fifteen days, according to NGA. The introductory contract will last for seven months.

The agency has also turned to crowdsourcing by using to get working code that can take data with different formats, schemas, interfaces and locations and make it centrally available for search and analysis.

NGA's open, flexible efforts to acquire commercial geointelligence data "hasn't hit any walls yet," Cardillo said, adding that understanding "the art of the possible" can sometimes be difficult for organizations that cling to the "comfort zone" of old ways. But small innovative acquisition wins can build momentum over time, he said.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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