Q: What is NRO’s strategy for responding to budget cuts? A: NRO always strives to preserve the mission capabilities so important to our users and the NRO workforce critical to providing those mission capabilities. We take on budget challenges the same way we take on operational challenges—by harnessing the innovative spirit and the technical talents of the NRO government/contractor team. NRO met a recent significant budget reduction by designing a more capable, resilient and affordable future architecture, enabled by technical advancements matured through our advanced research and development program. We have also achieved efficiencies through different contract strategies and buying approaches, and by consolidating IT. Q: NRO recently racked up a string of clean audits. What effects have you seen from this achievement? A: NRO has certainly enjoyed operational and financial success over the last several years. In addition to the success of our 2012 launch campaign—four launches in five months—we also received our fourth consecutive clean independent audit. Four in a row is an impressive accomplishment by the men and women of NRO. This achievement has set us apart as a leader in financial management in the IC, and increased our credibility with those who oversee us. We have also partnered with NGA on its new financial management system, GEOINT-Financials. This was a tremendous undertaking and truly a win-win situation for both organizations. For NGA, the effort modernized its financial systems, provided better information for decision-making, and laid the foundation to help achieve its goal of auditability. For NRO, this joint endeavor allowed us to test and further improve our financial management practices, and to strengthen our collaboration with NGA, one of our closest IC partners.
under EA are more cost-effective to fly since we have the same industrial base of the newer-build vehicles and can leverage those same engineers. In addition, we’ve found that an experienced industrial team can develop cost-effective technical upgrades that can improve performance and often be implemented within existing contracts and funding. That is something “clean sheet” systems do not experience. Of course, there are times when EA is not appropriate, and NRO does not use this strategy as a “one size fits all.” If a dramatic new technology becomes available, or if a current contractor does not perform well, we will not hesitate to take a different acquisition path. Q: How are you working to maintain mission assurance [MA] processes in an era of cost cutting? A: Mission assurance processes are essential to mission success. Budget-constrained environments don’t change the need for MA, but they do encourage us to re-examine our standards and processes to ensure we’ve struck the right balance between risk and cost. Therefore we constantly review our mission assurance standards—our how-to guide for the most critical elements of program development—and modify them where appropriate. Those standards are also tailored by our program managers for each of our acquisition efforts, to ensure the appropriate risk/cost balance for each program. O
Q: How would you describe your approach to evolutionary acquisition [EA], and is that approach itself evolving? A: First, let me say that we believe EA is directly responsible for NRO’s excellent acquisition performance over the past three years. We have been able to keep all our major program acquisitions “in the green” for cost, schedule and performance—a record that we have unfortunately not matched when we’ve used different acquisition strategies. EA encompasses several major tenets, but I’ll mention a few of the most significant. First, by evolving new systems, rather than using a “clean sheet,” we reduce overall acquisition risk and focus our non-recurring investment on new sensors and collection capabilities—not on re-designing the entire spacecraft. Secondly, when we want to field a higher-risk technical collection capability, we mature that in our R&D program, then as a separate “tech insertion” program that can fly when ready; we do not allow it to slow down, and drive cost, in the main-line satellite acquisition. Third, we contract for multi-vehicle block buys of spacecraft delivered on regular schedules. This incentivizes the contractor base to think long-term and implement efficient, cost-saving production processes that they wouldn’t do on single vehicle buys. Using these approaches, we have seen our major programs stabilize, then actually under-run government independent cost estimates. There are other benefits as well. Older satellites procured www.GIF-kmi.com
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