ORLANDO, Fla. — The office of U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte is close to completing the first phase of a two-year review of all U.S. intelligence-collection capabilities. The Integrated Collection Architecture review will help set spending priorities in what has become a highly competitive intelligence-budget environment after years of increased spending in the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks , a Republican congressional staff member said Nov. 14 .

The purpose of the study — an initial set of recommendations from which is due to be sent to Congress by the end of November — is to identify spending shortfalls, or gaps, in current collection capabilities and budgets . The reviewers have found significant gaps, a fact that sparked “quite a bit of negotiations” among intelligence agencies and Negroponte’s office, said John Stopher, the Republican budget director on the staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Stopher made his remarks during a panel discussion at the Geoint 2006 Symposium here.

During a Nov. 16 keynote address at the symposium, Negroponte characterized the Integrated Collection Architecture review as a work in progress that has two phases. The first focuses on mostly classified technical systems and capabilities, while the second will draw human collection and open sources of data into the mix.

With officials at the conference searching for ways to pay for and make better sense of the growing torrent of intelligence information, one official aired a radical suggestion during a later session: “I think if I were king for a day I would be tempted to sort of create a moratorium on quote new collection systems,” said Keith Masback, director of the Source Operations Group within the Source Operations and Management Directorate of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

Masback was answering a question from the audience during a session that examined “Challenges for the Geoint Community.” Afterwards Masback was careful to say he was offering a personal statement during the freewheeling discussion.

Stopher and other officials at the conference warned against attempting to fix the budget problem through changes to the acquisition process.

During a Nov. 16 keynote address at the symposium, Donald Kerr, director of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), announced that his agency has for the first time awarded a commercial-style, fixed-price contract for an unspecified collection platform. The contract calls for the delivery on orbit of that platform in three years, he said.

“For certain things it makes sense” to use firm-fixed price contracts, Stopher said. But for the advanced types of capabilities that keep the United States ahead of its adversaries, fixed-price contracts are not the way to go.

Stopher also said efforts to put more fidelity on program cost estimates are misplaced.

“There are people right now who are trying to fix the cost-estimating problem and I think that’s wrong,” Stopher said. “The underlying problems are managing resources, things like that … It’s a driving force for those people never to be wrong about their cost estimates again. We’re leaning too far over towards making sure that … what ever the date was double it, triple the budget, and then let’s build a program,” he said .

Stopher was not alone in making the point.

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Scott Large, the new director of the Source Operations and Management Directorate at NGA. Large said the intelligence systems in question are highly complex, filled with technical risks, and they cannot be treated like commodities.

Pushing contractors too hard could backfire, he warned.

The risk of using firm-fixed price contracts is going to drive costs up, he said. Stopher suggested part of the answer could lie in improving Air Force management practices at the National Reconnaissance Office, which manages production of spy satellites.

He drew applause with this observation: “It doesn’t make sense to me that [Air Force] acquisition specialists get rotated through an assignment every two years when it takes eight years to build something,” he said.

As for the victories of the Democrats, who will now control his committee, Stopher said there appeared to be some reassuring news for intelligence community advocates.

“I would say that support for intelligence from the Democrats should be as strong as it is from the Republicans, and I would be very surprised if we see any reductions as a result of the change in Congress specifically in intelligence,” he said.

A complication, though, will be the pressures that are building to move programs out of the post-9/11 supplemental budget process and into the baseline budget, which is subject to spending caps.”

Some of the quick fix things that we tried, and many of them are really super … are going to face competition” against some of the broader budget issues Congress is dealing with, Stopher said.

The sessions were not completely dominated by budget questions, however.

Robert Cardillo, deputy director for analysis at the Defense Intelligence Agency, pushed for more efficient sharing of information among intelligence agencies. Domain-wide data-sharing standards are “necessary to allow us to freely flow the geospatial information that exists and is created in multiple places and multiple agencies, whether it’s mine, or CIA or the open source center, or the New York Times,” Cardillo said. “How do we bring that together to the desk top so analysts can make better decisions?” he said.