NGA Facilities Operating Status »
Contact Us »


Navigate Up

Q&A with new NGA director, Robert Cardillo

By Glenn Holloway, Office of Corporate Communications
Pathfinder Magazine
Dec. 1, 2014

 
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO TELL THE NGA STORY IN AN UNCLASSIFIED WAY?

It’s really important. We have always needed to make a public case, because the country invests a lot of money in this business and in our democracy. People like to know what they are getting for their money.

I think it’s even more important today, in an era of post-WikiLeaks disclosures and NSA issues, that there is a bigger public consciousness about what its intelligence community is doing. I think we have a great story to tell. We have a story of relieving human suffering, of recovering from hurricanes and typhoons, of securing events. And we have an advantage because many of our raw materials are unclassified, or can be. So, we have the platform, and we have the substance to tell a great story.

DO YOU SEE US EVER GETTING TO A POINT WHERE WE REGULARLY PUT OUR SEAL ON OUR PRODUCTS?

While I would like to see our seal on products where it is reasonable to do it, I am more concerned about getting our products and our services to the right folks at the right time. My first reaction is not to say, ‘Hey, we stopped that forest fire in New Mexico.’ No, ‘We gave information and understanding to the Forest Service so they could fight it better.’ Yes, we should be a part of that story, but it is more about enabling a consequence, which sometimes means being behind the scenes in our support to our customers.

WHAT ROLE DOES CREATIVITY PLAY IN THE SCIENCE- AND TECHNOLOGY-BASED FIELDS SUPPORTING GEOINT?

It’s a huge role. We are in the business of telling stories, and you can’t tell a good story unless you have the good parts of the story. You must have the content to get there. To me, creativity plays a role all through the construct. And it starts with being creative about how we’re going to tackle the problem.

I think we get stuck too early in our mental process when we see a current problem or new problem and go, ‘Oh, yes. I know how we deal with that. We go to X source and use Y template and we do Z process.’ Sometimes that routine is right. But, I believe strongly we need to question those routines and take a pause and ask ourselves if there's another way to answer that question. Sometimes our customers don’t even know what the right question is to ask.

So sometimes, we have to look at what’s underneath the question — what’s behind the question. This is what I mean by getting closer to our customer — getting into their headspace — so that you can think differently, more creatively about problems. If you do that well up front, there’s a stronger likelihood you’ll create valuable content, you’ll put that content in context, and you’ll creatively convey it back to the customer to enable their consequence.

IN THE CREATIVITY PROCESS, HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE LEADERS WHO MAY NOT BE READY TO EMBRACE CREATIVE FORWARD THINKING, AND HOW DO YOU GET THEM BEYOND RISK AVERSION?

I’ve run into that issue. Around 1990, we were being introduced to soft-copy exploitation. The work station was called the IDEX, or Imagery Data Exploitation System — it was a beast with two consoles and two screens. And you had to reserve time to use it.

We were in the business of building hard-copy operation support packages back then. They were very manually intensive graphics packages, and they would start with the map then go to the overview and build tighter and tighter close-ups. And those close-ups had mensuration details and aim points — and it was big and heavy. In fact, we delivered them on trucks to our customers. To update those hard-copy packages, we had to redo the whole thing.

So, I went down to the IDEX, one day, and took a whole day to build the thing in soft copy. My proposition to my boss was, ‘Look. If that one point changes, all I have to do is go into the thing, cut this out, paste this in and it’s done.’ He listened to my pitch, and walked away muttering, ‘We’ll never do it because, what if the power goes out?’ So, that was his answer. ‘We might lose power, and if we lost power, we can’t be dependent on this thing.’

Of course, if we lost power we’d have a lot of other problems. And this was a boss I recognized in my 3 October ceremony, so I think very highly of him. This wasn’t some Neanderthal who was just against anything new. He was just stuck in his own mentality about it. So, I did it on my own. Now, you may say that’s insubordinate, but he didn’t tell me not do it. He just didn’t give me any encouragement to do it.

So, I began introducing it to my colleagues, and created a network of peers who were also on board, because none of us wanted to rebuild those hard-copy products. So, the short answer to that long answer is, sometimes you’re going to run into a boss who says, ‘That’s cute. Go back to work. We don’t do it that way here, kid.’ I encourage you to be professional, do what you can to manage up and educate your boss. But don’t leave it there. Look for peers, look for other partners in other parts of the agency, find a likeminded spirit in another directorate, someone you can team with. Going up is only one route, you can go left or right.

HOW DO YOU PLAN TO ADDRESS TRADECRAFT DEVELOPMENT?

I call it technical development, and I mean the development of specialty. If you’re an Iranian regional expert, we want you steeped in Iranian culture, history and language. And when we can, we want to immerse you as much as possible in the environment, so you can have a greater opportunity to elicit details out of the imagery or geospatial source you are exploiting. It will provide a better context within which we want you to apply your craft.

There are also some core skills, depending on your career service and work role within that service, for which we want very deliberate training. I see that as a mix of classroom time at the college, on-the-job training with a team chief or senior analyst in your organization, and peer-to-peer training. In my career, I suspect I learned the most peer-to-peer.

HOW ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT?

I’m a big believer that leadership doesn’t have anything to do with a title, or a grade, or a rank, or anything like that. Leadership is a characteristic — a capability — we all need. And leadership is situational and dependent. For example, some people might see this job as all leader, all the time. It’s not true. I don’t know what the percentages are, and I certainly have my moments of leadership throughout the day. But, I have tons of learning throughout the day, tons of listening … oh, by the way, I have bosses … we all do. So, I too am managing up trying to make my boss successful. I admire what my predecessor has done here with leadership development at all levels.

It takes a big investment in money and time to do this, and I will continue that investment. We always have to deliver the goods — to support the mission and the warfighter. Beyond that, the true measure of success in positions like mine and others is how we are developing those who follow us. We all should be in the mode of helping one another develop as leaders.

IS THERE A PLAN TO INCREASE OPPORTUNITIES WITHIN THE AGENCY TO WORK IN BILLETS OUTSIDE ONE’S TRADECRAFT?

I think there is, and I would support it. Most people are familiar with the Joint Duty Assignment program, and I think it’s done great benefit to the community, great benefit to the workforce. Someone told me we need internal deployment opportunities. ‘I’m an analyst. I love being an analyst. I expect to be an analyst when I retire. But, I think I could offer something in the Inspector General’s shop if I was able to go do a tour for a year. And it would help me decompress.’ Maybe there’s a person in a very high tempo, round-the-clock, 7-by-24 job, and he needs a mental decompression — not an easy job, just a different job to exercise different mental muscles. I think that’s very healthy.

Obviously, we don’t want everybody doing an internal deployment at the same time. They will need to be structured and managed similar to JDAs — we post them, people apply for them. I don’t know why we couldn’t do that internally.

‘TAKE CARE OF THE TROOPS, THEY TAKE CARE OF THE MISSION.’ WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU?

I’ve heard debates ‘Is it people first or mission first?’ And I don’t understand the debate. It’s not either/or. It’s ‘yes’… it’s ‘and’ … it’s ‘both.’ If we were all about our people and didn’t support the mission, we wouldn’t exist very long, nor should we. There is no way you can be all about the mission without being all about the people. You have to do both at the same time. So everything we just talked about — personal development, career path, skills, education — why are we doing that? Obviously, to make you as capable as possible. Why? So you can support the mission. So, to me, it’s just very symbiotic.

WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF THE NST ROTATION POLICY?

We are deployed, and we will be deployed. The reason we have those deployments is to benefit our customer. The vast majority of the people going out there are enriched by the experience. They get a new perspective and understanding of our business, and, let’s face it, in large measure those are wonderfully rewarding assignments and opportunities. But let’s say we send 100 people out on assignment and just leave them there. At some point, those 100 will hit a diminishing return curve. The value they’ll receive from the deployment will start to go down over time. And our value to the customer will go down over time. Now, it’s not always easy for the customer to see that. They go, ‘Well, John’s been here for five years. And John’s wonderful. And why would you think John’s not as valuable?’ But let me go back to what I said a minute ago, those billets are highly valuable, highly rewarding opportunities. We need to share those. Every case is unique. I’m not big on factory models, where you turn the crank and each NST and each deployer is treated the same. But, I do think it’s useful to have broad guidelines about what we’re committing to, so when you sign up for a deployment or outside assignment, you know what the left and right bounds are.

People asked me when I left my last job, ‘How can you leave the Oval Office, the presidential daily brief?’ I said, “Because it’s a great job and I shouldn’t be in it forever. I should let somebody else have a great job.’

HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?

I don’t carry the weight of the job around, because I have trust and confidence in the team. We have great leaders. We have great employees. We have good processes. So, I don’t feel like I have to be in on every action. I believe that is part of a good work-life balance. You have to have some sort of separation. Ms. Long was able to take two straight weeks of leave — that’s a stretch goal for me. But, I will commit to a solid week in February or March to go skiing and not … well, I’ll have my Blackberry.