The NGA Bets on Relationships to Power its Acquisition Strategy

Seeking expanded agility, collaboration, and innovation, the NGA reimagines its acquisition strategy.

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When the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) opened its Moonshot Labs incubator in St. Louis last year, it heralded a new era for the NGA—one that placed expanded emphasis on collaboration with academia and industry, and that signaled an appetite to explore new means of innovation.

It’s working.

“It’s hard to explain how a facility makes such a difference. But I’m seeing it now with my own eyes,” said Sue Pollmann, west executive of the NGA, speaking at a panel discussion on the NGA’s integrated acquisition strategy at the GEOINT 2022 symposium.

Pollmann said Moonshot Labs, along with the NGA’s new campus that’s under construction in St. Louis, enable the agency to better embody its ambitions to improve agility and “speed-to-need” by fostering collaboration and relationships.

“The outcomes are really expanded and greater, because we can literally work together with the partners that are coming out of those accelerator cohorts” at Moonshot Labs, Pollman said. “That’s proving to have great results, to the point where we’re actually going to see some of those folks now graduate into full-blown contracts.”

That’s just one way the NGA is reimagining its procurement and acquisition processes. The NGA also is in the process of adding a layer of decision-making rigor by establishing Program Executive Officers (PEOs).

The PEO structure is intended to facilitate “comprehensive and consistent conversation about our acquisition programs. It positions us to be able to articulate with industry what our needs are, as well as describe our programs, our schedules, and our plans,” said Tonya Crawford, deputy chief information officer at the NGA, speaking at the symposium.

The agency hopes that translates to added efficiency and strategic continuity, as well as a natural conversation hub with industry partners. The goal is “to create clear entry points for industry to help us with the solutions that we need, and also for them to talk to us about their interests and partnering with us,” Crawford said.

That last phrase suggests that NGA craves a genuinely collaborative relationship with its external partners, a value that is also evident in the agency’s guidance regarding its requests for proposals (RFPs).

“When the draft RFP comes out, that is not locked in stone. If you’ve got a better way to do things, a better way to contract for things, a better way to solve the mission, let us know,” said Howard Pierce, chief of information, technology, and mission support for the NGA’s Office of Contract Services.

Pierce acknowledged that sharing those ideas could pose proprietary or strategic risks for the agency’s industry partners, but stressed that “unless we can get that dialogue going in those kinds of venues, we’re not going to get where we need to be.”

Another example of collaboration is the NGA’s 2021 “GEOINT CONOPS” roadmap for operations through 2035. For one, the drafting process involved community partners for the first time. Second, the roadmap acknowledges a need for large-scale community participation and cooperation moving forward, in order to achieve desired end states, such as interoperability and an integrated GEOINT operating environment.

NGA leaders hope the roadmap shows industry, academic, and international partners things they “can grab onto and see where we’re trying to go and help us get there, because we’re not going to get there by ourselves,” said Gary Dunow, associate director for enterprise at the NGA.

Beyond the specific initiatives, agency leaders hope that their partners feel—well, like partners, and not vendors.

“I think part of how we [move forward] with agility is building those relationships,” said Celia Hopkins, deputy associate director for capabilities at the NGA. “Yes, we want your ideas. I think it starts with the relationship, too.”

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