— In an effort to foster better cooperation across the intelligence community, a number of intelligence agencies are assigning civilian employees to temporary assignments at different agencies.
An early practitioner of the trend is the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which has been placing its people elsewhere since its inception, and could serve as a model if the intelligence community expands its current effort, according to a senior NGA official.
The intelligence community-wide effort, which was implemented in June 2007, is known as Joint Duty, and requires that civilians rotate through joint positions at other intelligence agencies in order to gain promotion to senior ranks, according to a memo signed in June 2007 by Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence.
NGA’s own effort, which began with its inception as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in 1996, organizes about 14 percent of its work force into groups known as NGA Support Teams (NSTs), according to John Oswald, director of NGA’s analysis and production directorate. The effort, which started with only 114 people, has expanded significantly over the years, Oswald said in a June 30 interview.
The NST concept is based on an earlier Defense Department effort that was focused on placing imagery analysts at combatant commands and service intelligence centers, Oswald said.
The NSTs are made up primarily of civilian government personnel, but also include uniformed military personnel and contractors, Oswald said. The teams are deployed with military service organizations, combatant commands and civil agencies like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and serve both inside and outside the United States
Oswald declined to specify the number of personnel in each support team, but said the Marine Corps has a relatively small team, while an organization like European Command receives a larger complement of NGA personnel.
Oswald credited the teams with helping to build trust with NGA customers, responding quickly to customer needs, and getting a better sense of what the customers want. While deploying personnel to work remotely can be more expensive than having them work at NGA’s headquarters, the benefits justify the cost, he said.
In many cases personnel who are deployed as part of an NST with a military organization may remain with their host longer than the uniformed military rotation cycle, helping to bolster continuity of expertise, Oswald said. Some members of an NST return to NGA headquarters after two to four years, but most others remain at the host organization, though they stay in constant touch with headquarters and return for training, meetings and conferences, he said.
Those NST members who have returned to NGA headquarters have brought back insights that generated rapid improvement in tradecraft, and prompted others to request the assignments, he said.
In addition to supporting their host organizations, the NSTs increasingly are offering intelligence that benefits policymakers and other agency customers traditionally provided for by staff at NGA headquarters. That helps avoid costly duplication of effort in a resource-constrained environment, Oswald said.
The teams have been so successful that customers have asked for a total of approximately 2,000 more NST personnel, Oswald said. This figure is more of a wish list than an achievable goal, and resource constraints likely will limit the agency to providing a small percentage of that figure, he said.
However, intelligence community- wide improvements with computer networks could help address some of this demand with personnel at NGA headquarters, he said.
Oswald said classification prevents him from discussing the NSTs‘ success stories in supporting military and intelligence customers. He did note, however, that NGA supported response efforts following several recent events, including the earthquake in , wildfires in and floods in the , as well as law enforcement preparation in advance of major events in the United States