Cover: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Resources

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Resources

Financial Management Programming Evaluation

Published Jun 8, 2022

by David Luckey, David Stebbins, Sarah W. Denton, Elena Wicker, Stephanie Anne Pillion, Alice Shih


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Research Questions

  1. How has the programming phase within the NGA resource management process evolved over time?
  2. What other prior studies of agencies' IPPBE processes exist and which, if any, of their findings or recommendations might be applicable to the NGA programming phase?
  3. What were the conditions, causes, and effects of NGA's portfolio changes across its three programming eras?

Over the past decade, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has evolved its programming organization multiple times, along with the process it uses for managing its resource investments. Each of these iterations was done to address challenges and inefficiencies. NGA is now considering additional steps to improve its process and is seeking to improve its practices through internal improvements, such as gaining an understanding of how previous changes affected the overall effectiveness of its resource management process, and what can be learned from other organizations. NGA is now entering a fourth period of acquisition restructuring that is intended to improve on how the planning and programming phases are managed.

NGA asked the RAND Corporation to review the programming phase of the Intelligence Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Evaluation (IPPBE) process. The authors looked at three organizational eras (pre-2013, 2013–2018, and 2018 to the present) to determine the conditions, causes, and effects of performance and effectiveness generally and of previous changes to this phase of NGA IPPBE for each era.

NGA is not alone in its ongoing effort to modernize its IPPBE structure to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Although NGA has conducted several previous internal studies to identify areas for IPPBE process improvement, this research is the first to synthesize findings between external literature and findings gleaned from structured subject-matter expert interviews to highlight crucial program-process issues for NGA leadership to absorb and address in any future IPPBE restructuring phase.

Key Findings

  • The programming phase is not an isolated process but should have its own procedural documents.
  • Several Department of Defense and Intelligence Community agencies, including NGA, have struggled to establish clearly defined, standardized planning processes.
  • There is a lack of external guidance and requirements, and there are few internal governance structures.
  • Although some guidance for the programming phase exists within NGA, the guidance is insufficient and is frequently changed by incoming leadership, reducing its usefulness.
  • NGA faces challenges in leadership visibility into the budget process, difficulty tracing funds across the IPPBE process, and understaffing—all of which affect the agency's ability to execute its budget.
  • NGA experiences data management, interoperability, and data access and visibility challenges. NGA lacks measures of performance and measures of effectiveness for the programming process.
  • Transitions between different eras of fiscal planning and programming in NGA have led to the creation or shifting of several roles within the organization.
  • NGA has struggled to provide consistent briefings to Congress and to respond to questions from external stakeholders consistently; accountability for contributions to the IPPBE process appears lacking.


  • Develop guidance and codify documentation that outline a consistent, repeatable IPPBE process with clear roles, responsibilities, and starting and stopping points for each phase.
  • At the end of the planning phase, produce documented guidance (including risk analysis) for the program build.
  • Develop a consistent briefing protocol for interactions with Congress.
  • Develop clear, consistent guidance documents for the programming phase that provide explicit instructions for aligning the program build with planning decision documents and the NGA mission and strategic goals.
  • Clearly define conditions for success, build integration, and improve mission-resource alignment.
  • Redefine the budget cycle as a year-round process, allowing for reprioritization and change taking time to enforce and increasing emphasis on effective planning and programming to enhance the budgeting phase.
  • Develop a transition plan to support the seamless transition of data to the proposed, modernized requisition system; outline how the system will integrate with all related existing systems; set standards for data input, management, and updating; and develop appropriate procedures for transferring existing data into the system.
  • Develop clear guidelines concerning the roles, responsibilities, and authorities of associate directors, resource deputies, key components, and financial management and the relationships among these positions.
  • Hold individuals accountable for their required tasks, and develop a culture of accountability in which all members of the office understand their contributions to NGA's outward-facing submissions and image.

This research was sponsored by NGA and conducted within the Cyber and Intelligence Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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