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 Sept. 14, 2015

 Jeanne Chircop
 NGA Office of Corporate Communications

NGA's leadership team wears 'Team GEOINT' shirts at the 2015 GEOINT Symposium.
NGA's leadership team wears 'Team GEOINT' shirts at the 2015 GEOINT Symposium.

Representatives from throughout the DOD, IC and close allied nations manage standards and governance through various National System for Geospatial Intelligence forums. The NSG, of which NGA is a member, constitutes the core of what NGA director Robert Cardillo calls “team GEOINT.”

The NSG consists of more than 30 national members and the four nations with which the united States shares a multilateral agreement for intelligence cooperation — United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, which together form the Allied System for Geospatial Intelligence. In addition to the NSG and ASG, several organizations participate in the GEOINT community as NSG partners, including members of industry and academia, professional organizations and foreign nations with which the united States has bilateral agreements.

Director Cardillo leads the NSG as the GEOINT functional manager, a duty separate and distinct from management of NGA.

“A lot of people confuse mission management and functional management,” said Charlie Schilling, deputy chief of the NSG Capabilities and Integration Office within NGA’s Office of Geospatial Intelligence Management. “Mission management is the tactical, day-to-day work; functional management is the strategic, planning work.”

The use of universally accepted and agreed-upon standards ensures that NSG system components do what they are required to do and are integrated in ways that allow GEOINT to be exchanged between them, according to Jeff Bell, GEOINT standards expert who represents NGA in several NSG and GEOINT enterprise-wide standards working groups, including the Open Geospatial Consortium and the Defense Geospatial Information Standards Working Group. Standards also ensure that GEOINT data are in forms that can be understood by varied systems and users.

In June 2015, the NSG issued a directive on standards assessment, according to Mary Willmon, a member of the NSG policy team. the directive established a formal assessment program for standards pertaining to it, GEOINT data and services, and interoperability.

The process is far from easy, said Angel Douglas, who focuses on the international aspects of the task. For example, she said metadata tagging is complex because nations work within different security domains, use different terminology and follow different technical standards.

Ronnie Stanfill, manager of Enterprise Challenge 15, said EC participants discovered several years ago that 80 percent of the GEOINT systems tested were compliant with standards, but only 20 percent of them were interoperable. The reason, he said, was that the standards themselves were incompatible.

The discovery prompted Thomas Ferguson, then-principal deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, to issue a memorandum in 2011 stipulating that full program funding for systems depends on verification of compliance with NSG GEOINT data standards.

But the real incentive to comply, according to Willmon, is that “people understand that they won’t be interoperable without them. They’ll be left out.”