Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency
table of contents

Executive Summary and Key Judgments
NIMA from the Beginning
NIMA in Context
Two-and-a-Half Roles for NIMA
The Promise of NIMA
NIMA and Its Stakeholders
NIMA and Its "Customers"
Is There a "National vs Tactical" Problem
NIMA and Its Peers and Partners
NIMA and Its Suppliers
NIMA Management Challenges
NIMA's Information Systems
NIMA Research and Development
NIMA and Its Information Architecture
Appendix A
Appendix B
Glossary of Terms

10. NIMA and Its Suppliers

10.1 NRO and FIA

The mission of the National Reconnaissance Office is to enable US global information superiority, during peace through war. The NRO is responsible for the unique and innovative technology, large-scale systems engineering, development and acquisition, and operation of space reconnaissance systems and related intelligence activities needed to support global information superiority.

The NRO designs, builds, and operates the nation's reconnaissance satellites. As one of NIMA's imagery suppliers, the NRO plays an important role in helping achieve information superiority for the U. S. government and Armed Forces. Through NIMA, inter alia, NRO products can warn of potential trouble spots around the world, help plan military operations, and monitor the environment.

The discerning reader will note that this is not precisely the way the NRO would characterize itself. The Commission is anxious to emphasize the role of the NRO in context: the NRO is a supplier to NIMA--true, the NRO is more venerable and better financed, but its role is properly thought of as a supplier to NIMA. It is important for the NRO and the Intelligence Community to get this picture. In part, it is a previous failure to understand the relationship that has led to the collection-centric behavior of the Intelligence Community, which funded FIA without real thought to funding imagery TPED.21

FIA, the Future Imagery Architecture, is the program for replacing the current constellation of satellite imaging vehicles, and associated ground processing systems. For the first time, the design of an NRO system was dictated more by requirements and less by technology, and was "capped" in terms of overall system cost. As a consequence of the requirements versus technology change, it will end up delivering imagery, much of which could be acquired from commercial imagery providers whose technology is not far below that of the NRO. As a consequence of the funding cap, there are currently five capabilities validated by the JCS, which FIA will not provide. From the Commission's perspective, the phasing of FIA, which delays integration of airborne and commercial imagery into the "system," is suboptimal.

10.2 DARO, Where Are You When We Need You?

NIMA has the overall national imagery mandate but, with the recent demise of the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO), it is unlikely that NIMA can adequately provide for the tasking, processing, exploitation and dissemination (TPED) aspects of aerial photography, whether from manned or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery collection platforms.

From the perspective of this study, DARO needs a successor. The Intelligence Community, civilian as well as military, cannot let the issue of a focal point for airborne reconnaissance remain unaddressed. A clarion note should be sounded, for the Congress and for the Services, that there should be convergence and economies of scale across the future of airborne recce.

The Commission also wonders whether theater airborne imagery reconnaissance may become a "net minus"--a drain on imagery capacity rather than a contributor. The problem is that the current generation of airborne imagery platforms is becoming increasingly vulnerable as anti-aircraft technology improves. Either the airborne imagery platform will have to fly at a longer standoff, decreasing its resolution and thus its utility, or it needs to be protected. Thus, prudence dictates that the recce aircraft fly only under the protection of an air cap, which in turn requires an AWACS aloft. But in order to ensure the survivability of those assets, and to give them retributive targets in the event of hostile lock-on, the mission planners need to know the location of SAMs which, if mobile, require recent imaging, which means tasking, inter alia, satellite imagery assets. An alternative to manned reconnaissance platforms is, of course, the UAV, which was to have been so cheap as to be "disposable", but which has turned out to be so expensive that it, itself, has become a high-value asset that must, in turn, be protected if flown in harm's way, which requires imagery, etc.

10.3 NIMA's Changing Role in a World of Commercial Suppliers

NIMA faces a fundamental business problem that it must solve if it is going to lead the information edge.

Currently, NIMA owns the market for geospatially referenced intelligence analysis, both in terms of being the largest customer for these intelligence products and in terms of being the main supplier of the digital source for these products. Thus, NIMA is in the unique position of being the largest customer for and the largest supplier of these materials. This monopoly is starting to erode, however, as a commercial market for competitive business intelligence based on analysis by and from commercial sources grows. NIMA's role is also beginning to erode as the contractor base finds it harder and harder to justify doing business with NIMA when NIMA is viewed as being neither a steady and reliable customer nor a steady and reliable provider of source data sets.

As one can see in the accompanying graphic, the distinction between the commercial market and the government market has come down to a single point, the source for the visual analysis. The commercial world relies solely upon commercial and open sources; whereas, the government can also use national assets for its source materials. The differences beyond the source are purely semantic, and the ultimate product is the same-"The Information Edge." The commercial world speaks of competitors while the government speaks of enemies. The speed of the marketplace is the same as the speed of the battlefield-in both, seconds do count. Industry also suffers from its own version of the "fog of war."

NIMA's primacy as the market driver will not decline immediately. NIMA will, however, continue to lose its dominance in direct relation to the speed with which the opposing market forces increase. If NIMA does not maintain its position as being the driving force of the market, NIMA will not be able to continue to lead and direct the technological advances in both tools and sources that support its mission. In short, NIMA has to realize that it is in a market that is growing more and more competitive everyday.

The fundamental question to NIMA's survival is whether it can change the way it works in order to take advantage quickly of developments from the mainstream commercial sector- here defined as being those private sector industries that are more driven by the commercial marketplace than by direct government funding. Also, NIMA must deploy analytical systems that allow its customers to directly give NIMA new ideas regarding the technology and services that NIMA deploys-this is key for NIMA to remain a premier intelligence provider.

All the documents presented to the Commission and all the people who have spoken before the Commission have stated that innovation is the key to NIMA's future. Unfortunately, NIMA is holding onto legacy business processes that do not provide it with the flexibility necessary to adapt. This is understandable, since the changes NIMA needs to make are against its existing business model, which is based on the business practices and technology that have sustained NIMA so far.

NIMA, however, has to "commercialize" itself. It has to adopt the disruptive business models of the "dot-com" world in order to move at the speed of innovation. In short, NIMA must evolve or die.

In the text, BEST TRUTH: Intelligence in the Information Age, the authors write that the most remarkable aspect of the information revolution is not the technology itself, but the ways by which information is "managed, produced, and consumed." The continuation of the revolution is not a centralized affair; rather, it is highly decentralized, in that the users of the information now have at their disposal the ability to envision, design, build and deploy systems based on commercially available tools. This is anathema to the centralized, hierarchical acquisition model upon which most organizations have thrived for decades. NIMA must realize that if it is to indeed define the information edge, it cannot centrally change itself based on a schedule; rather, it must push the tools for change down to the user. NIMA must give the customers of NIMA's materials the tools they need to innovate.

One of the major reasons for NIMA needing to push the innovation down to the desktop of the individual analyst is that the post-Cold War intelligence mission has become more ad hoc and chaotic than before. NIMA can counter this nonlinear mission by allowing the users of NIMA's tools and sources to give NIMA the ability to "self-organize"-that is, to dynamically adapt NIMA to changing mission needs. This, however, requires an architecture that allows the users to develop and adopt their own tools within a commercially viable hardware and software platform. This flexibility is only possible outside a traditional, centralized approach to system development and acquisition.

NIMA can take a lesson from a commercial giant, General Electric, and its race with Bell Laboratories to invent the transistor, which is recalled in Lester Thurow's article, "Brainpower and the Future of Capitalism." Bell Laboratories developed the transistor exactly one day prior to General Electric. The reason for this delay was that General Electric gave the job of testing the transistor to its vacuum tube engineers. The vacuum tube engineers spent three years trying to prove that the transistor would not work. Bell Laboratories, on the other hand, spent its time trying to prove that the transistor would work. As Thurow so clearly puts it, "There were five companies in America that made vacuum tubes and not a single one of them ever successfully made transistors or semiconductor chips. They could not adjust to the new realities." If GE had spun off a new company based solely upon the viability of the transistor, then GE would now have all the patents and Nobel prizes and revenues from the transistor. More importantly, GE would also have been in a better position to benefit from the revolution in miniaturization that marked the introduction of the transistor. Instead, GE ended up having to buy transistors and semiconductors from various suppliers.

NIMA will have to recognize its new realities, and adjust accordingly, since, unlike a commercial venture, NIMA will never go out of business-NIMA's business (the generation of intelligence), however, will suffer if NIMA cannot adopt these disruptive business practices. NIMA will have to set up its own in-house competitors, whose only charter is to "break the old to make the new." Nothing should be sacred to this group-neither process nor product. In this way, NIMA will not run the risk of asking people with conflicting interests to generate new ideas.

Another example which focuses more on the generation of intelligence from a consumer's perspective is also helpful. Recently, Walker White, Chief Technologist of Oracle, recalled a business decision he made while waiting for a flight at SFO. The airline representative told him that his flight would indeed be arriving shortly and that his flight would indeed depart on time. Walker accessed the Internet via his Web-enabled digital phone, went to, loaded his flight information, and found that his plane had left LAX, was traveling at 25,000 ft., was cruising at 400 knots, and was headed south. Walker states that even he can figure out that the flight will not be arriving "soon," and will definitely not be departing "on time." Walker then goes to a competing airline, exchanges his ticket, and arrives home a little later than planned but not as late had he stayed with his original itinerary.

NIMA has to understand that the Web is going to be its future, regardless of what NIMA would like to do. Otherwise, it will be in the position of being a misinformed airline representative trying to convey an incorrect explanation to a more knowledgeable customer. Everyone must utilize Web-based technology, since all vendors are building Web-enabled tools. The Web is now unavoidable, which means that businesses are moving to the Web and vendors are building the tools that allow the businesses to move.

The increase in capability and capacity in both hardware and software, NIMA's customers are in the position of being Walker White-except for the fact that NIMA owns the source material. NIMA's customers do not have to wait for NIMA to execute a grand design of a system; they can-and do-cobble together systems that can exploit NIMA's source materials. White knew that the airline representative was either lying or misinformed. NIMA's customers know that NIMA is either a well intentioned yet bloated bureaucracy or an organization that is out of touch with its customers or both.

NIMA can correct this, because NIMA has allowed it to happen by abdicating its oversight authority of its contractor base. Thus, the contractors will be true to their in-house knowledge and business plans and will deliver a product that best meets the needs of both NIMA and the contractor's stockholders.

10.4 Commercial Imagery Providers

NIMA has the statutory and logical responsibility for "buying" all commercial imagery (and geospatial products). NIMA has graciously interpreted this to mean that it is to facilitate the transactions and assure that, if required, the content (intellectual property) can be shared across the relevant national security community. And at least in an early prototype, NIMA chose the online "Mall" model that we see with commerce on the public Internet.22

The Congress showed keen insight in designating NIMA the DoD and Intelligence Community sole focal point for commercial imagery. Not to be outdone by itself, however, the Congress, one year, denied NIMA the funds necessary for purchasing that imagery. The administration topped that, in successive years, by failing to request sufficient funds, a move that the Congress then trumped by authorizing and appropriating funds that were not requested. Most recently, the NRO announced an on-again, off-again, Billion Dollar Buy. The Commission observes this hot-potato approach with wry amusement; if it weren't serious it would be funny.

NIMA has, rightly, assumed responsibility for provisioning the Library/Warehouse with data, including commercially obtained products. Rightly, too, it has decided that it can franchise to those commercial interests the job of vending products directly in the Library/Warehouse/Mall. NIMA's job should be to ensure that the shelves are full of quality stock. There should be an "archive manager" whose job it is to evaluate and grow the value of the holdings, including the ability to order imagery "on spec." Users should be empowered to make their own ordering decisions. In order to keep the transaction costs low, the actual cash stash--duly requested by the Administration, appropriated by the Congress, and preserved in the Office of the Secretary of Defense--could be administered by NIMA for OSD. This commercial imagery fund should be the vehicle for end-users to buy both raw imagery and vendor's value-added offerings. The Commission estimates that, for the first year, $350 million seems about right; based on what the Commission expects to be a positive experience, that number should be expected to rise substantially throughout the FYDP. Note that this suggested amount for end-user purchases is exclusive of traditional outsourcing of NIMA legacy products, e.g., maps.

In the FIA, the question of commercial imagery is to be addressed, but too late23 and, it appears, with a less-open model.24 What is sorely needed is a policy review and coherent strategic direction for the use of (and reliance upon) commercial products. When planning FIA, consideration was given to the then-current generation of commercial imagery, which did not significantly change the equation. The FIA planning "error" was in failing to realize that a commercial generation was half as long as a government generation. In retrospect, FIA planners might better have bet on the come, anticipating the commercial imagery that would become available contemporaneously with FIA. This likely would have changed the equation and permitted FIA to move "upscale"--move its sensors to a higher technological plateau, to include, say, HSI--and, in the event, be more complementary and less competitive with commercial imagery.

10.4.1 NIMA's Commercial Imagery Strategy

NIMA engages the commercial imagery industry as a user of commercial imagery in support of its own missions; as the central purchasing agent for the DoD and Intelligence Community; as the agency responsible for the tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination of commercial imagery; and as a contributor to the policy processes by which the government regulates the commercial imagery industry.

As the functional imagery manager, NIMA should advocate commercial imagery, especially where it satisfies a unique need and/or offers unclassified information-sharing opportunities. In 1998 NIMA and NRO developed a commercial imagery strategy to take advantage of the emerging US commercial imagery industry. Included in this strategy was a provision for the "unambiguous commitment" to commercial products and services. The strategy was rolled out, publicly, signaling a new approach to commercial imagery by the US government with important implications for its overall imagery architecture.

Yet, implementation of this strategy remains unfulfilled.25 Areas of concern to the Commission include:

Strategy and philosophy: NIMA has been slow to adopt commercial imagery, although trend lines are improving. Until recently, NIMA had a poor understanding of how commercial imagery could meet existing or future imagery requirements. NIMA has failed to elaborate on the relationships between classified imagery information and commercial imagery, whether in terms of real cost or comparative advantage in using either one. Moreover, NIMA still tends to consider raw imagery as the sole commodity to be acquired from industry rather than value-added products and services, including imagery analysis.

Coordination of Commercial Imagery Purchases: NIMA gets mixed reviews on its role as the central coordinator of commercial imagery purchases for the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, especially from field elements. While NIMA's licensing agreements provide a discounted price to the US government, as well as a central repository for imagery, current DoD and other users of commercial imagery do not understand the process.

People: NIMA's Commercial Imagery Program has suffered a high turnover of personnel during its early years. The Commission believes that a senior officer must have responsibility for this position. NIMA has made little progress in refining their and their customers' understanding of the real costs associated with imagery.

Funding: Insufficient funding imperils implementation of the Commercial Imagery Strategy. The funding levels envisioned in the current strategy appear small, given the potential payoff to the nation.

Architecture: While NIMA correctly envisions seamless tasking, processing, exploitation, and dissemination of commercial imagery, it has by necessity developed a separate architecture to handle commercial products. NIMA should accelerate its plans to integrate commercial imagery products into the FIA MIND.

Acquisition model for commercial imagery: NIMA continues to think about the commercial imagery industry predominantly as a source of raw imagery, rather than as a provider of a more varied slate of products and services.

NIMA also plays an important role in the US policy and regulatory processes related to commercial imagery, including licensing. While the Commission believes that NIMA has played a more supportive role than other Department of Defense and IC agencies, it should continue to play a stronger advocacy role for commercialization, especially in light of strong consumer demand.

Finally, while the Commission believes that a shift may be occurring within NIMA with regard to commercial imagery, it is a shift that is neither fast enough nor done with sufficient conviction. Remote sensing commercialization is taking place within a broader US national strategy that NIMA has not yet seen fit to fully endorse or encourage.

10.5 Commercial Value-Added (GIS) Product Suppliers

NIMA needs to view the commercial imagery industry as more than just a source of imagery. The commercial sector can provide some of NIMA's imagery analysis services and most value-added geospatial products that can meet most, if not all, of NIMA's requirements. There is a long tradition of nongovernment mapping activities, and there has always been considerable commercial capacity to produce such products. Although a lot of that capacity was embodied in small, "mom and pop" shops, there was a lot of vitality and innovation. The current plentitude of shrink-wrapped GIS software is a testimony to the vigor of the commercial industry. Most recently, the industry has been undergoing some restructuring on its own and also in anticipation of NIMA needs. There is both horizontal and vertical integration. Most notably, the commercial imagery providers see their future not in providing commodity imagery, but in selling value-added products and services built upon their imagery offerings. NIMA is seen as an underdeveloped segment of this market, and it is.

10.5.1 NIMA's Buying Habits--Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The Commission lauds NIMA's espoused goal of buying such products from commercial industry. By all accounts, however, the execution of this strategy lags. The temptation is to lay the blame at the feet of institutional resistance to outsourcing, which naturally stems from internal job satisfaction and a feeling that they can do it better, as well as a modicum of job protection, per se. Some Commissioners observed that the NIMA processes for ensuring quality (QA/QC) may be influenced unduly by workforce protectionist instincts rather than real quality control concerns. Another chokehold that NIMA can exert is the failure to provide source data/imagery in timely fashion. As mentioned elsewhere, the coming availability of high-quality commercial imagery should alter this equation: classification is no longer a valid excuse for delay and the product suppliers can, themselves, contract for source materials without depending upon Government Furnished "Equipment" (GFE).

There appears to be a tendency on the part of some in NIMA to view its GIS vendors as simply a "body shop"--a de facto supplement to its workforce. This handicaps the contracting officers, stifles vendor creativity vis a vis higher value-added products, and means that NIMA generally is perceived as a poor business partner.

There are, however, many in NIMA who are to be commended on their commitment to get the in-house/outsourced balance correct. The Commission was particularly impressed by those in NIMA who are exploring the diversity of outsourcing methods.

10.5.2 A Strained Relationship with Industry

The Commission was treated to a gentle, but ubiquitous perception-held by contractors and vendors--that NIMA was not a good, dependable business partner. In part, this perception is held by contractors about all government agencies with which they do business and/or would like to do more business. The US government arrogates to itself some unique business notions: its contracts call for "termination for convenience," the government's convenience, that is. The year-to-year funding of government agencies reflects itself in language that conditions long-term commitments on "the availability of funds" and leads to a "hand-to-mouth" existence for some suppliers for whom the government is the major customer.

Beyond the ordinary, however, NIMA has been characterized as an unreliable partner. NIMA-specific complaints are due partly to NIMA's own penurious state, the growth of its mission, and the relentless march of technology that injected early obsolescence into last year's plans. And perhaps subtle sabotage springs silently and unbidden--sometimes unconsciously--to the minds of workers forced to confront outsourcing many of their "birthright" jobs. Notwithstanding, NIMA can and must establish a better relationship with its commercial suppliers.

Among the compelling reasons for burnishing its image with its commercial suppliers is that as commercial imagery and derived applications take off in the commercial sector, NIMA's own position as a favored customer is marginalized. This has happened before, especially in the information technologies, which is where NIMA is largely positioned.

One positive step that NIMA must take is to ensure that its staff, and especially its contracting corps, understands better the business of business. The Director of NIMA is to be commended for convening an industry forum in which NIMA talks and listens.


21 Of course, there is a countervailing view that the NRO, via technology pull, provides the engine that drives NIMA and is best left in the driver's seat, as well.

22 The implementation, as we understand it, is on a protected "intranet" or "Virtual Private Network" (VPN), which provides some operational security and duly diligent protection of the intellectual property rights of the vendors. If need be, the information can be replicated onto an intranet at the SECRET level from the unclassified, Official Use Only, level.

23 The ASD/C3I has a good, if leisurely, plan to address commercial (and airborne) imagery in later phases of FIA.

24 At issue is whether the vendors of commercial imagery have the opportunity to interact with, and "drop ship" their wares directly to, end-users, primarily on an unclassified (SBU) network, or whether their products will immediately be scarfed up into a classified network, thereby isolating them from users, for the most part.

25 This despite the on-again, off-again, Billion Dollar Buy of commercial imagery announced by D/NRO.

Foreword | Executive Summary and Key Judgments | Introduction | NIMA from the Beginning
NIMA in Context | Two-and-a-Half Roles for NIMA | The Promise of NIMA
NIMA and Its Stakeholders | NIMA and Its "Customers" | Is There a "National vs Tactical" Problem?
NIMA and Its Peers and Partners | NIMA and Its Suppliers | NIMA Management Challenges
NIMA's Information Systems | NIMA Research and Development
NIMA and Its Information Architecture | Recommendations | Appendix A
Appendix B | Glossary of Terms

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