NGA's CIBORG seeks commercial data

satellite image of US at night 

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is teaming up with the General Services Administration in a push to acquire imagery and data from commercial providers.

The CIBORG program, an acronym for Commercial Initiative to Buy Operationally Responsive GEOINT, gives NGA access to GSA's Multiple Award Schedules Program to acquire commercially available, unclassified data on an as-needed basis.

For example, say the NGA wants to monitor an airfield somewhere in the world and get updated imagery every six days. Rather than use its own assets, it can contract out for that coverage through a commercial provider under a GSA IT Schedule 70 Contract.

"If you're a company and you can do that, you take the market order and go off and prosecute it and provide us services and we pay you," Chirag Parikh, director of NGA's Source Strategies Office, told FCW at a Defense One briefing. "And you can do that completely through GSA -- you don't have to have a special acquisition capability."

Parikh said that the program is designed to provide flexibility for companies so they don't have to go through a complicated Federal Acquisition Regulation process. But CIBORG is designed to provide NGA with more flexibility too.

"There is uncertainty in the industry right now," he said. "It's still a nascent industry -- you don't know which companies are going to be there in three years," and so this data as a service model protects NGA from getting tied into long-term contracts with companies that might go out of business or merge with other companies.

In addition, he said, it allows more companies to take a piece of NGA business without having to take on the agency as an "anchor tenant."

Parikh said that given the proliferation of commercial satellite and data collection companies, it simply makes sense to push unclassified needs out to the private sector and free up NGA resources.

"I want to focus my collection assets that I have control over on the hardest problems, the ones that industry can't solve," he said.

And going forward, NGA isn't looking just for imagery and data: the agency wants to contract out the analysis too.

"You take the imagery, you get it from wherever you need to -- whether it's your own company or other companies that are providing imagery -- and you do the analysis, and then you provide us the information of what you found," he said.

Parikh said that CIBORG is likely to create a market for new business models and new companies that can crunch the ever-growing volume of data being ingested that exceeds the capabilities of NGA to analyze.

"This is a big data issue -- I don't have the assets to manage and broker all these capabilities at once," he said.

"It's a Field of Dreams situation -- if you build it they will come," he added. "What 'it' is in this case is the platforms to do geospatial collection, and 'it' I believe is going to be…one company taking the data streams of many, integrating it and being able to put something useful out."

NGA was unable to provide details on where CIBORG is in its development and if any contracts have been completed. The program is expected to be in full swing next year.

About the Author

Sean Carberry is a former FCW staff writer who focused on defense, cybersecurity and intelligence.


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