- Press Release
- Jan 31, 2023
Report on the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency: Executive Summary and Key Judgments
Last year, the Congress requested that an independent commission be formed to review the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, or NIMA. This report documents the commission’s finding and recommendations, some of which need to be addressed by the defense and intelligence leadership, and others by NIMA.
The Full report is online at http://www.nimacommission.com/
Executive Summary and Key Judgments
Late in the fall of
1999, Congress requested the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and
the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) to form a Commission to review the National
Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), a new agency perceived by some to be
struggling toward coherency as the national security environment and US
doctrine–e.g., Joint Vision 2010–evolved mercilessly around it.
A proximal event was the disappointing realization that design and acquisition
of the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) had sorely neglected the value-adding
systems and processes known collectively as “TPED”–the tasking, processing,
exploitation and dissemination of the imagery collected by reconnaissance
The Commission, formed
early in 2000 to review key dimensions of strategy and performance of
NIMA, has completed its work and offers a number of conclusions and a
few recommendations. Several supporting studies were performed by RAND
and will be made available in their entirety to the Director of NIMA.
The Commission also had the benefit of a number of prior studies, including
one recently published by the Defense Science Board. Few of the issues
that arose in the course of the investigation were unexpected; most had
been previewed by the earlier reports.
The Commission validates
the charge that the Intelligence Community is “collection centric,” thinking
first of developing and operating sophisticated technical collection systems
such as reconnaissance satellites, and only as an afterthought preparing
to properly task the systems and to process, exploit, and disseminate
the collected products.
The Commission concludes
that, although some progress has been made, the promise of converging
mapping with imagery exploitation into a unified geospatial information
service is yet to be realized, and NIMA continues to experience “legacy”
problems, both in systems and in staff. Admittedly, these problems are
not of NIMA’s making–it inherited two disparate cultures, an expanding
mission, and inadequate resources. Notwithstanding, the Commission believes
that timely development of a robust geospatial information “system” (GIS)
is critical to achieving national security objectives in the 21st century.
The Director of NIMA understands this and the Commission has every expectation
that he will fulfill the promise, circumstances permitting.
The Commission observes
the traditional short tenure of senior-most leadership among Combat Support
Agencies and is concerned that, with a nominal tour length of two to three
years, the current vision and momentum may not endure sufficiently to
become institutionalized. The senior-most NIMA leadership garners high
marks, but some NIMA management strata are of uneven quality.
The Commission finds
NIMA attempting to modernize all systems simultaneously–anticipating
the FIA–with high-caliber systems engineering and acquisition personnel
in dangerously short supply both in NIMA and in the Intelligence Community
at large, which is simultaneously trying to modernize signals intelligence
(SIGINT) and bring next-generation reconnaissance satellites online.
The Commission questions
whether US military doctrine has evolved to so rely on intelligence–imagery,
especially–that it may become unsupportable with current investments.
The need to precisely engage–with strategic considerations–any and every
tactical target, without collateral damage, without risk to American lives,
requires exquisite knowledge immediately prior to, and immediately subsequent
to, any strike. Demonstrably, US imagery intelligence cannot support this
activity on any meaningful scale without precarious neglect of essential,
longer-range issues without additional resources.
The Commission noted
occasional competition for intelligence resources between the Department
of Defense (DOD) and non-DOD users of intelligence that borders on the
unhealthy. Positive leadership must be exerted jointly and sincerely by
SECDEF, the Joint Chiefs, and the DCI, who must first reconcile any differences
between and among themselves. NIMA, itself, must be more attuned to impending
The Commission learned
that in a comprehensive requirements review that helped define FIA, considerable
imaging requirements were allocated to commercial and airborne imagery:
In peacetime, less than 50% of required area coverage is allocated to
FIA, while commercial and airborne assets accounted for the majority of
peacetime area allocations. For peacetime point coverage the reverse is
true, with the bulk of peacetime point targets allocated to FIA, and a
minority to airborne and commercial assets. During a major theater conflict,
about half of both area and point coverage, are allocated to FIA, while
commercial and airborne assets combine to meet the other half of all requirements.
FIA holds to the claim
that it will meet all its allocations; however, because of negligible
budgeting to date for commercial imagery, and proposed reductions in airborne
investment, OPSTEMPO and PERSTEMPO–the FIA era still might not live up
to its billing as eliminating collection scarcity. Compounding the problem,
the Commission could find no credible plans–i.e., adequately funded program–to
integrate commercial and airborne products into FIA and/or TPED.
The Commission echoes
the sentiments of Congress with respect to the halting way in which the
Intelligence Community is embracing commercial imagery collection–processing
and exploitation, as well. In retrospect, inadequate notice was taken
of the potential availability of high-quality commercial imagery as a
part of the larger FIA architecture. In the spirit of Presidential Decision
Directive (PDD) 23, the Commission is inclined to endorse the US-industry
move to resolutions of 0.5 meters, the capabilities of which should be
fully and aggressively incorporated into a serious plan that would, inter
alia, remove the current fiscal disincentives that discourage end-users
from opting for commercial imagery when it can otherwise meet their needs.
The Commission applauds
NIMA’s outsourcing of products–largely cartographic, to date–and agrees
that considerably more may be warranted, including value-added geospatial
products, selected imagery analysis products, and specialized, “science-based”
imagery exploitation. Indeed, the Commission wonders whether the time
may be right to consider externalizing the operation of almost all legacy
systems and legacy products, consistent with assured continuity of service
and provision for crisis capacity. The benefits would include freeing
up scarce-skilled US government (USG) personnel and relief from the strain
on the management attention span of NIMA and the Intelligence Community.
The Commission asked
hard questions about key aspects of imagery-TPED. Is the design for TPED
adequately understood? Is new thinking being incorporated aggressively
and balanced with sound management of technical risk? Are users’ future
needs well enough understood and provided for? Does the TPED design accelerate
the integration of imagery and geospatial concepts–the promise, after
all, of creating NIMA? Is the TPED approach grounded in modern information
systems thinking? And, is there a plan for rapid insertion of new technology?
Is NIMA, with its current staffing, capable of managing the acquisition
of TPED? Is the likely cost of TPED fully reflected in current budgets?
The Commission acknowledges the herculean task of modernizing while under
resourced and simultaneously attempting to satisfy the increasing demand
for its staple products.
The Commission found
reason to be concerned about the level of research and development conducted
by and on behalf of NIMA. Imagery and geospatial activities in the national
security sector are only partially congruent with those of interest to
the commercial information technology sector. The Commission is convinced
that woefully inadequate R&D holds hostage the future success of TPED,
the US Imagery and Geospatial Service (USIGS), and indeed of US information
superiority. Nor does the Commission see sufficient, aggressive, and effective
regard by NIMA for the issues of technology insertion.
The Commission feels
that US loss of satellite imagery exclusivity makes a robust imagery-TPED
absolutely critical, but does not see this urgency reflected in the programming
and budgeting for TPED. By way of explanation or excuse, critics have
recited their litany of NIMA-TPED ills. While the Commission agrees with
some of the criticisms, it fails to see how that situation can be improved
by under funding.
Finally, the Commission
suggests that the US loss of satellite imagery exclusivity places a hefty
premium on SIGINT-IMINT convergence–sooner rather than later–but questions
whether the “multi-INT TPED” is being given adequate priority. The Commission
cautions, however, that actually integrating Imagery- and SIGINT-TPED
is a bigger, more costly, more demanding job than the sum of the two respective
pieces done separately. Staffing such an enterprise in a traditional government
way seems, to the Commission, to be a nearly insuperable hurdle.
The Commission offers
a number of recommendations of which the most global and far-reaching
are summarized here. Where possible the recommendations suggest that specific
actions, with specific outcomes and set time frames, be assigned to particular
The Commission recommends
that the DCI and SECDEF, with such help from Congress as may be required,
ensure that the Director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (D/NIMA)
serve a term of not less than five years, absent cause for dismissal,
and subject to the personal needs of the individual. In the event that
an active duty military officer serves as Director, the cognizant military
service must commit to this length of tour and Congress should ameliorate
any unique hardship that this entails upon the military service.
The Commission recommends
creation in NIMA of an Extraordinary Program Office (EPO) armed with special
authorities of the Director of Central Intelligence and the Secretary
of Defense, augmented by Congress and staffed–free of staff ceilings
and pay caps–through an heroic partnership between industry, NIMA, and
the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The EPO, to be constituted from
the best national talent, shall be charged with, and resourced for all
pre-acquisition activities, systems engineering and architecture, and
acquisition of TPED–from end-to-end, from “national” to “tactical.” The
first milestone shall be completion of a comprehensive, understandable,
modern-day “architecture” for TPED. Other provisions of law notwithstanding,
the Congress shall empower the Director of the EPO to commingle any and
all funds duly authorized and appropriated for the purpose of the “TPED
enterprise,” as defined jointly by the Secretary of Defense and the Director
of Central Intelligence.
With some trepidation–anxious
not to delay further NIMA’s TPED program–the Commission suggests concomitant
study of the evolving TPED strategies on the part of commercial imagery
vendors and value-added GIS providers. While the timing may not be right,
the opportunity to converge on what may become the commercial mainstream
should not be overlooked.
The Director of NIMA–with
the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the managements of Intelink
and OSIS–shall ensure promptly that commercial imagery and value-added
suppliers are able to pursue an “e-business” model for their products.
Budget submissions for the National Foreign Intelligence Program (NFIP),
Joint Military Intelligence Program (JMIP) and Tactical Intelligence and
Related Activities (TIARA) budget submissions should realistically reflect
needed resources for an aggressive program of “open source” imagery acquisition,
which shall be sufficiently robust, stable, and predictable as to encourage
US commercial interests. The Secretary of Defense should establish a central
source of funds against which components can charge commercial imagery
The Commission recommends
that the DCI and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control,
and Communications (ASD[C3I]) request, and the Congress approve, a substantial
increase in research and development by and on behalf of NIMA–in aggregate,
an amount more in keeping with the proportionality of cutting-edge industries
in the information business. And, to take advantage of this sponsored
research, as well as to reap the benefits of the commercial information
technology revolution–which fortunately shows no signs of abating–the
Director of NIMA shall implement a vigorous technology insertion process.
Receptivity to technology insertion should be reinforced in the NIMA workforce
and become an incentivized Key Performance Parameter (KPP) of all USIGS
system acquisitions; test-beds and Advanced (Concept) Technology Demonstrations
(ATD/ACTD) should be used more widely. Consideration should be given to
naming a Chief Technology Officer.
Finally, and more
broadly, the Commission suggests that serious, far-reaching review is
required of evolving US military doctrine and its dependence on an ever-expanding
definition of information superiority, so as to determine the contingent
liabilities placed on intelligence. These and these alone must define
the needed level of investment in intelligence resources by the military
services. Anything less is reckless and irresponsible. We cannot simply
design intelligence capabilities to cost; we must design-to-cost the overall
strategy which consumes intelligence.
NIMA is an essential
component of US national security and a key to information dominance.
Despite some shortcomings it is a vital, if under-appreciated, organization
staffed with talented individuals and led by dedicated officers.
Despite its acknowledged
criticality to information dominance, NIMA is under-resourced overall,
not only for TPED acquisition (USIGS modernization), but also for commercial
imagery procurement, R&D, and training for its officers and for the
larger imagery and geospatial community.
NIMA works hard at
understanding its customers and, by and large, is quite successful at
it. In the field, NIMA receives praise up and down the line. Washington-area
customers, too, compliment NIMA but evince concerns about the future insofar
as today’s relatively happy state of affairs is based on personal relationships
and long-term expertise; the concern is that as the present cohort retires
the situation could deteriorate.
The tension between
the “strategic” (long-term) challenges and the “operational” (short-term)
challenges is a larger national security community problem. It most definitely
is not the fault of NIMA, despite perceptions of some all-source analysts
and their managers that NIMA tilts toward operational military needs at
their expense. In fact, the tension itself is more properly characterized
as one of balancing long term and short-term intelligence support to a
wide range of customers.
the need to bolster long-term imagery analysis and plans to transfer 300
NIMA positions (60 per year, 2001-2005) from cartography to imagery analysis,
all of whom would remain in the Washington, DC, area to support Washington
customers and rebuild NIMA’s long-term analysis capability.
Having DCI versus
the SECDEF as the ultimate tasking authority, in the absence of major
hostilities, still makes sense; it continues to ensure that the delicate
balance between military and diplomatic intelligence needs is maintained
in the face of everyday contentions for national imagery collection resources.
The principles of DCI tasking authority, and provision for its transfer
to the Secretary of Defense in time of war, have served the nation well.
The DCI is purposefully positioned to appreciate national, military, and
civil claims against a scarce imagery resource and to adjudicate otherwise
irreconcilable contentions as may arise among the constituencies. His
role here is not accidental, but by design.
The relatively new
positions of Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Analysis and
Production, and for Collection (ADCI/AP and ADCI/C) could benefit NIMA
considerably by prioritizing the information needs of the national consumers
and the reflection of those needs on the collection disciplines, especially
imagery. They chair Intelligence Community fora for achieving consensus,
the National Intelligence Production Board (NIPB), and the National Intelligence
Collection Board (NICB), respectively.
is critical for sustaining US information dominance, but there are doubts
that the design for TPED is adequately articulated or understood; that
the incorporation of new thinking is pursued aggressively yet balanced
with sound management of technical risk; that users’ future needs are
well understood and provided for; or that the TPED design accelerates
the integration of imagery and geospatial concepts–the promise, after
all, of creating NIMA.
Continuing to organize
its business model around legacy products and processes puts NIMA at risk
in the FIA era, shortchanges the needs and priorities of users, and fails
to facilitate convergence of imagery analysis and geospatial production.
Multi-INT TPED is
vital to retaining US information dominance, but progress on converging
even IMINT and SIGINT is halting at best. The recent announcement about
cooperation on shared requirements databases is a step in the right direction.
Against all odds, there is compelling evidence that NIMA should be in
the forefront of this convergence because it owns the geospatial construct.
There is a justifiable
lack of confidence in NIMA’s current ability to successfully accomplish
its acquisition of TPED (by whatever name)–reminiscent of the lack of
systems engineering and acquisition capabilities of its forebears. The
current TPED (or, USIGS modernization) acquisition effort lacks a clear
baseline, which should tie closely to overall strategy, requirements,
and cost constraints. Heroic measures will be required to remedy the problems.
D/NIMA could well benefit from an advisory panel to help, in the first
instance, with TPED acquisition.
There is accumulating
evidence that the likely cost of TPED (or USIGS modernization) is not
accurately reflected–i.e., is significantly underestimated–in the current
POM/IPOM. Supporters and detractors alike recognize that the NIMA infrastructure
is not up to the present mission, much less the future, and that the full
value of FIA cannot be realized unless major improvements are made.
The lines of responsibility
between TPED and communications systems, both terrestrial and space, have
been blurred. The dialogue so far among NIMA, DISA, NRO, and the user
community engenders no confidence that the links will be there when needed.
The CINCs and Services conveniently profess not to know where TPED ends.
is very difficult–he tries to serve two masters, tries to harness two
cultures, is under-resourced, driven by technology, and he is forced to
run the organization at the tactical as well as strategic level because
of uneven management strength in some of his direct reports. The middle
management corps is the key to NIMA success in merging cultures, in modernizing,
and in outsourcing.
The current tour length
of the Director of NIMA, two to three years, is too short to solidify
accomplishments, institutionalize solutions, and sustain the momentum
for needed change; it allows the Director’s intent to be frustrated by
recidivists who wait out the change in leadership.
The FIA requirements
process expressed considerable demand for commercial imagery, and there
is considerable additional latent demand in the field, both of which are
seriously attenuated by the fact that national technical means (NTM) appears
to be a free good, while buying commercial imagery means trading off against
beans and boots and bullets. NIMA’s commercial imagery strategy is lackluster
and the larger US strategy to commercialize remote sensing is as yet unrealized
due largely to the Intelligence Community’s and DOD’s reticence.
While the US has not
been aggressive enough in approving commercial imagery licenses, the National
Security Council (NSC) is to be applauded on its recent decision to approve
a 0.5-meter commercial imagery license.
There is evidence
of cultural and bureaucratic impediments to outsourcing NIMA products,
but there are some in NIMA intent on getting the in-house/outsourced balance
correct. Lacking, however, is a well-thought-out overall strategy for
what might be called “transformational” outsourcing vice using contractors
as a “body shop” supplement to a government workforce.
Not yet taking maximum
advantage of commercial hardware and software, NIMA appears to depend
heavily upon existing processes and products and persists in developing
government standards that diverge from emerging commercial standards.
Nor is NIMA properly positioned to make good use of an e-business model,
which would allow for online order taking and order fulfillment, peer-to-peer
and business-to-business transactions, and “point-of-sale” financial transactions.
The documented decline
in experience and expertise in its imagery analyst corps jeopardizes NIMA’s
ability to support its customers. Not limited to NIMA, the downturn in
analytical expertise is due to both loss of experienced people and the
fewer number of years of experience held by the new hires.
in NIMA hover around 1 percent; this is puny, even in comparison to the
USG average of 2.5 percent and quite a bit lower than sister intelligence
Inheriting no R&D
legacy from its predecessor organizations, NIMA, today, has too little
R&D investment and no overall strategy; it could benefit from a Chief
Technology Officer. NIMA is not well positioned for rapid and continual
technology insertion and does not make use of Advanced Concept Technology
When NIMA does choose
to rely on contractors, its acquisition and contracting practices come
in for heavy criticism even from successful bidders. If NIMA is to take
full advantage of commercial offerings, it must be seen as a steadfast
The sooner NIMA forsakes
legacy products in favor of data sets from which the products–legacy
and new–can be constructed by consumers downstream, the better.
D/NIMA does not fully
assert his role as functional imagery manager, has too little say over
end-to-end architecture (including the “last tactical mile”), and too
little leverage over all intelligence and defense imagery-related investment.
Here we mean to include both imagery and geospatial “TPEDs”. When necessary,
the term “imagery TPED” is used. Generally, TPED and USIGS can be relatively
interchangeable. The reader is referred to the discussion of what TPED
is and what USIGS is.
The Full report is online at http://www.nimacommission.com/