NGA deputy director talks acquisition overhaul

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Justin Poole said the key to acquisition reform is more autonomy.

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The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is undergoing several changes thanks to the explosion of connected data and the internet of things.

NGA Deputy Director Justin Poole said during a keynote address at the annual C4ISRNET conference in Arlington, Va., that the agency's challenge is making sense of all of the data it expects to gather.

"We cannot hire enough analysts to exploit the data we anticipate from new and emerging sources," Poole said. "We also know that the analysts we have need new skills and tools to maximize the potential of unique non-traditional data sources."

To fix that, NGA wants to increase its use of three As: automation, augmentation and artificial intelligence and apply those technologies to every adjusted image by the end of 2018. Poole also said NGA was pushing to create a data-centered workforce that emphasizes new training, hiring methods, and integrating computational thinking into the culture. 

But there's one more A that Poole hopes will bring NGA much-needed change, and that's acquisition. Poole first hinted at the acquisition overhaul in February, telling FCW that the goal was to for the "acquisition program to make more sense from a mission perspective."

At C4ISRNET, Poole gave a few more details. NGA is moving away from long development cycles with static requirements and changing its acquisition plan to "add engineering rigor earlier" and to "eliminate the redo moves."

The result, he said, will be "smaller contracts focused on mission-specific capabilities," as well as smaller procurements and more diverse opportunities.

Poole said the acquisition reorganization will work within current authorities but will retool program offices and take advantage of alternative contracting vehicles, such as other transaction authorities.

The new strategy also focuses on giving program managers more autonomy. Typically, acquisition approval had to come from the chief acquisition executive, he said. But Poole wanted to push that responsibility down as far as possible. So he developed thresholds with dollar values at each level.

"There are only certain dollar values I would approve as a CAE," Poole said, adding that senior procurement executives, the CIO and program and product managers all can approve acquisitions up to certain dollar limits.

But that's not enough to improve procurement. "I'd like to push that [responsibility] down further," he said.

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