National Intelligence Folly: How a Tragic Unsolved Murder Led to Billions of Dollars of Program Fraud, Waste and Abuse Part 31:

The topic of this series started with the unsolved murder of security guard Tina Ricci in 1994, which led to the discovery by congress of the construction ongoing for a new National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) headquarters, leading to the firing of NRO Director (DIR/NRO) Jeffrey Harris and Deputy DIR (DD/NRO) Jimmie D. Hill in the middle (Phase B-of three phases) of the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) procurement.

Which I offered as the reason for the FIA optical procurement disaster because I don’t believe Harris and Hill were ever serious about recompeting the NRO satellite portion of the contract but were putting on the veneer of uncertainty to motivate and incentivize Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMC) to lower proposal response prices. Which was arguably analogous to the Chicago Bulls attempting to low ball contract negotiations with Michael Jordan in his prime as if they were willing to let him go …

Their firing resulted in Keith Hall becoming DIR NRO and although it was offered mostly tongue in cheek, my “theory-” based on Doc from Back to the Future’s Space-Time Continuum Disruption Theory-is that as a continuation of events stemming from the discovery of the new building, Hall took over and was serving as DIR without a DD for a time with a million questions to answer and likely never really “got the message or the memo” that LMC was the only option for the FIA contract (at least the optical component:) which led to most of the later problems.

Having been in this situation myself a handful of times-where the commander or executive officer was removed or dismissed or pressed into service for a special assignment, or a director and deputy were rotated on short notice leaving a void, or in the case of tests and experiments where you get called in like “Mighty Mouse” to “save the day”, or even the case that is becoming more common these days where the person who should be in charge of a procurement has to recuse themself because of some conflict of interest, it is always somewhat of a triage effort, priorities based, scratching the most urgent itches and going about “running the trains.”

It is not difficult to imagine Keith Hall stepping in to answer thousands of questions and do the apology tour and let the acquisition and procurement officials who were going full speed on a schedule-continue to do so.

This happenstance-the case where a contractor has a special or unique skillset that the government underestimates and thereby undervalues in the bid and proposal and procurement considerations, -was and is not-unique or unheard of or something that never happens in these big programs.

When the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was working on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and Unmanned Combat Aerial Systems (UCAS,) there was a huge technology range of options-as well as price points-being pursued that included low visibility and borderline stealth technology requirements and specifications. Producing an air vehicle that meets the government technical specification standard for “stealth” vice “low visibility” is a measurable manufacturing criterion-a metric-that less than a handful of manufacturers have the capability to produce-which can become blatantly obvious when testing is done on a vehicle that can’t meet the specification and requires “directed sub-contractors” adept in the technology and fabrication to achieve the standard.

Not unlike having a general contractor working on something in your home and needing to bring in a specialist to work crown molding…If you think it is expensive hiring a contractor who specializes in these techniques, think about how much more it costs as a “redo” when you are sitting there staring at the surveillance results and trying to achieve the threshold detection decibel figures specification as you calculate how much of that XX million dollars is left that you saved going with the lower bidder: yikes (which actually happened about a decade after the topic of this series where the NRO and IC spent about 20 times that one billion dollar savings achieved through the FIA award…!)

The other major item I’ve touched upon as a parallel or linked “disaster” was the engineering of the ground by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency/National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NIMA/NGA,) GEOSCOUT Contract Program (GEOSKUNK.) Disaster is a strong word. If you have a better one considering NIMA was a key participant in just about every FIA requirements, concept of operations and discussion meeting from 1996 to present-specifically oversaw the writing of the community requirements documentation and conducted the GEOSKUNK procurement action fueled by 1.5 billion dollars provided by congress for the Tasking, Processing, Exploitation and Dissemination (TPED) Assessment Plan (TAP,) Modernization Plan (TAP MOD Plan) to build the corresponding FIA ground architecture-send it to me and I will start using it: it better be good!

Those two aspects of my series-but primarily caused by FIA optical component schedule delays-had a book-end or spawned a companion effort to do clean-up on aisle seven known as the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet tasked Gap Study Mitigation Plan (GAP Study) conducted from ~8 July-18 October 2002, which resulted in alternatives to relying on Boeing to solve the optical schedule problem which later resulted in their termination and the award of the optical portion being made to LMC in 2005.

Additionally-what has extended this series into a book-which is what I told Infantry guy when he first suggested I take this project on-myriad program management and personnel issues exist to explain how and why the government is so bad at delivering these big programs, but we often focus on the what and not the why, never mind the other close cousins (like the who, where, when and how.)

Which is somewhat of the short version approach to explaining why it was flabbergastinggobsmackingincredible-malfeasance of a high order-borderline criminality-that NIMA/NGA later undertook a major Portfolio Management effort (PFM) to implement technical innovations on the heels of getting 1.5B in TAP Mod Plan dollars from congress in conjunction with the NIMA Commission led by Peter Marino, undertaking the GEOSKUNK Program contract, eventually spending much of that money recapping information technology (IT) compute infrastructure in the wake of USDI disapproval of Milestone II or Block 2.

Subsequently getting approval to build a new building in Springfield and buying all new equipment to outfit it rather than migrate much-if any-of the new IT equipment that had been purchased under GEOSKUNK, including a new Enterprise Service Center (two if you count upgrades in St. Louis, where construction on a new building is ongoing as we speak.)

The subtle point here that I don’t wish to belabor is the above might just be why the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (PDDNI) Stephanie O’Sullivan later “busted” a move to do the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE) Amazon Web Services (AWS) contract, while slashing the overall IC IT funding in half from ~14B a year to ~7B: all that IT funding going out the door year after year and the only agency making great strides on the cloud was the National Security Agency (NSA-) who was somewhat bigly undercut by the action, given the maturity of their hybrid cloud engineering-which is a best practice-but not if you sign up for contracted cloud services from a vendor like Amazon or Microsoft. Other agencies like DIA, NGA, NRO and CIA were wrestling with cloud implementation, but particularly NGA-who was all-in doing a mission and technology refresh (PFM effort) on the heels of spending over three billion dollars on IT between GEOSKUNK and NCE alone.

When you think about Boeing struggling mightily and throwing money at the problem attempting to complete the optical component, it is easy to lose sight of that Milestone B/II USDI GEOSKUNK disapproval-order of magnitude-wise, it was a huge, sobering, slap in the face-get your attention-that NGA was not taking the measure of nor answering the mail on the TPED ground side of the overall program.

There was no excuse or remedy or satisfactory answer to explain how eventful or dysfunctional-maybe a better word is disqualifying-this disapproval action was from an acquisition, DAWIA-world perspective: like a cosmic smackdown. Which is why I belabored matters for the better part of the last article providing examples of how it came to be that NGA became so distracted and seemingly addicted to a process and the impossible dream represented by PFM on the heels of an acquisition activity (GEOSKUNK) that was touted as the “bomb” but turned into a near total bust that over promised and under delivered and yet cost more than programmed.

I may have been far too subtle by a lot here if the response to that is ho hum, a lot of detail, meh. At risk of belaboring the obvious, what that translates to is NIMA/NGA purchasing basically new IT for most of its 8600 government civilians and some of its on-site contractors- (in proportions of four different levels of enterprise architecture equipment consisting of specials, top secret, secret, and unclassified (Sensitive But Unclassified-or For official use only) at least twice during this cycle.

And yet coming out on the other side of these purchases-in a new building-with all brand-new IT and a brand-new enterprise service center (that replaced the brand new one built before the move,) pursuing a PFM effort to modernize and revamp what is called the National System for Geospatial-Intelligence (NSG.) Notwithstanding the missed opportunity represented by GEOSKUNK and the whole-cloth purchases for the new building. You might wonder how something like this could happen and the straightforward-unsatisfactory answer is-this is how our government works.

Throughout much of GEOSKUNK-which was somehow grossly underfunded despite the infusion of some 1.5 billion dollars in the aforementioned TAP Mod Plan dollars (which NIMA DIR LTG James King always considered a down payment of the total bill of ~4.5B-comprising the legacy bill that had been unfunded since NIMA standup-) there were disconnects between the government engineers, the prime-LMC-the sub-contractors (large corporations in their own right-BAE, General Dynamics, Veridian, Harris, Raytheon, SAIC, etc.,) the general admin users and particularly analysts-some 4200 civilians who would have to use the delivered systems.

There was great organizational tension folded into, induced and inflicted on NIMA-the newest IC agency in the toolkit-that was largely hand-waved and dismissed at standup as things that would be worked out over time through the normal government bureaucratic processes (which is somewhat of the funniest-tragic-or most ironic point of all if you consider all the bad programs I’ve written about.)

If FIA ground (TPED) was its first big test as an organization, with GEOSKUNK as the proffered solution, the report card was not good as represented by the USDI non-concur or disapproval of the Milestone B/II decision in ~2004. Among the litany of poorly performing or executing programs I’ve covered in this series, GEOSKUNK might qualify as the de facto poster child when you consider this was after at least four years and about a half billion dollars on the way to a full “B+“.

Course, you would have to stack that up against each of the three letter agency failures that followed 9-11, the easy money days when NSA had Trailblazer, FBI had Analyst/Agent’s Notebook, NRO had FIA as a money burning, energizer bunny, DIA had DODUS Trusted Workstation, DoD had a bunch of stinkers in each of the services and so did the CIA across its directorates (like ICMAP.) In fact, the GEOSKUNKstink” was small potatoes compared to most of these really big expensive stinkers.

I like the analogy of comparing the problems encountered in merging a fast food and a traditional five or six course restaurant from a business perspective, but with the caveat that the management and leaders mostly come from the fast-food side of the house. DMA was very good at what they did, producing mapping, charting and geodesy products for the DoD and government agencies, providing Precision Timing and Navigation-with work in the Global Position System Program Office, and targeting via what later became known as Digital Point Precision Data Base.

But these were somewhat exceptions to their business model battle rhythm, which centered on updating existing products and large projects spread across the FYDP with minimal interaction with customers.

The other tension that came about as DIR Clapper took over NIMA on 12 September 2001 was the establishment of a dedicated futures effort represented by the InnoVision Directorate to focus on emerging technology and technical innovation and the component of development described as the “next” and the “afternext.” This was a seemingly straightforward attempt to articulate and differentiate between assigned missions-with the Enterprise Directorate operating squarely in the “now,” with Acquisition Directorate delivering the “now” and participating in-working with and watching developments-for the “next,” while InnoVision was working to refine and demonstrate the “next” while working on the “after-next.

Timeframes which correspond roughly to the FYDP funding, but best understood by the different colors of money and the technique behind the idea of pre-planned product improvements (P3I-a procurement technique where anticipated innovations or improvements are accommodated through the use of expansion ports or memory board expansion or chassis options that ease implementation of the improvement at a later time.)

The above construct (now-next-after next) was seemingly very straightforward-unless you were neck deep in resolving the unresolved NIMA acquisition issues and were suddenly the recipient of 1.5B in TAP Mod Plan dollars that were for specific and specified things. But not so obvious to the poster children who were the target audience in the aforementioned “Getting Started” prescription put together to help NIMA get its acquisition house in order. Nor to our leadership who decided on the safe choice of acquisition to execute the TAP money, vice the newly formed futures directorate that had built the case for the need of the money in the first place.

I mentioned earlier in this series about an acquisition certified senior executive who was inflicted upon a program I was leading who had his DAWIA certified “butt” handed to him when he represented us-me-at an NRO program requirements meeting where it became blatantly apparent that he knew nothing about the Pentagon-and NRO-acquisition 101 system requirements process that was so basic to the program business we were in that it was shocking.

Especially in light of what I related at the time that he and his sidekick had been anointed-as a result of actions taken at our agency level to respond to the above “Getting Started” blueprint-as our agency DAWIA Certification points of contact. To help you smell what the Max is cook’n, he was the one who had disapproved my DAWIA certification and dictated that I should redo “all of it-” hahahaha: a DAWIA Certification Official-for a Combat Support Agency-who was not familiar-with, nor trained in the Pentagon/DoD acquisition requirements process. Kind of like having a driving instructor who has never driven a car.

And then there were technologists working on building out the concepts and responses to a massive technology thrust ongoing within the IC and DoD in the wake of 9-11 to up the enterprise game and capability to deal with change, for instance, developing a high-definition UAV targeting capability.

There were organizational aspects at the heart of the dysfunction that led to many of the problems I’ve described. NIMA/NGA had an uneasy-maybe better described as “unsettled-” and bureaucratic approach to systems engineering that separated out to an uncertain and unspecified-some would say archaic-degree the enterprise and engineering services. Every organization has to deal with the progression-maturity wise-as new capability is engineered into the baseline enterprise architecture and subsequently transitions to being part of the baseline program reflected across the Five-Year Defense Program (FYDP,) broken down into operations and maintenance (one year) dollars and supported by an allocation of research and development or two-year dollars and recapitalization or three-year dollars.

I previously described the challenges NIMA faced at standup in 1996 trying to consolidate at least three different personnel management and administration systems that were distinctly different combining the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense and the hybrid-of sorts-represented by the Defense Mapping Agency.

The “acquisition” components of the new organization were much, much, much more complicated and much less understood than the largely common-in spite of differences in policy-personnel and budget systems. I’ve described these differences in detail without belaboring how the culture of the different organizations caused much of the tension and resulting problems, most of which stemmed from the different approaches to risk, program dynamics, appreciation for the concept of time from both user standpoint of need and the urgency of a solution for a problem in the field.

The appreciation of the sense of urgency and compelling need for a proffered solution was simply not a predominant consideration by the DMA folks who dominated the NIMA acquisition work force. I touched upon this problem a lot in this series already, for instance in previous articles about the Web-Based Archive Retrieval Prototype (WARP.) The initial engineering done in the late 1990s implemented an emerging-risky-little known-web interface called Netscape, leveraging a brand-new concept called two-factor identification as a risk mitigation technique to stream sensitive information at the SECRET NOFORN level-when every other consumer would need to be on a higher classification level terminal via dedicated circuits, vice SIPRNET web services. It was an NRO innovation that simply was not something that DMA/NIMA was going to do.

2 March 2023

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