Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

We live in a changing world with multiple and evolving threats to national security, including terrorism, asymmetrical warfare (conflicts between agents with different military powers or tactics), and social unrest. Visually depicting and assessing these threats using imagery and other geographically-referenced information is the mission of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). As the nature of the threat evolves, so do the tools, knowledge, and skills needed to respond. The challenge for NGA is to maintain a workforce that can deal with evolving threats to national security, ongoing scientific and technological advances, and changing skills and expectations of workers. This report assesses the supply of expertise in 10 geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) fields, including 5 traditional areas (geodesy and geophysics, photogrammetry, remote sensing, cartographic science, and geographic information systems and geospatial analysis) and 5 emerging areas that could improve geospatial intelligence (GEOINT fusion, crowdsourcing, human geography, visual analytics, and forecasting). The report also identifies gaps in expertise relative to NGA's needs and suggests ways to ensure an adequate supply of geospatial intelligence expertise over the next 20 years.

Key Messages

  • Despite its need for highly specialized knowledge and skills, NGA has the comparative luxury of being a small employer in the burgeoning geospatial enterprise.
  • The labor pool available to NGA includes U.S. citizens graduating in relevant fields of study and individuals working in occupations that require knowledge and skills needed by NGA. A labor analysis suggests that the annual number of suitable graduates ranges from tens for photogrammetry to thousands for GIS and geospatial analysis. The number of workers in closely-related occupations exceeds 100,000.
  • Given competition from other geospatial organizations, it is likely that qualified GIS and remote sensing experts are already hard to find. Long before 2030, competition and a small number of graduates will likely result in shortages in all emerging areas and in the core areas of cartography, photogrammetry, and geodesy.
  • Disciplinary change in universities has led to name changes, moves to different departments, and the creation of new departments for the fields discussed in the report. NGA could improve its chances of finding the necessary knowledge and skills by extending recruiting to the example university programs identified in this report.
  • Many mechanisms are available to build the knowledge and skills that NGA will require, such as strengthening existing training programs (e.g., by sending more employees to universities for advanced training), building core and emerging areas (e.g., by creating centers to support research and technological innovation), and enhancing recruiting (e.g., by using engaging problem-solving exercises to find students with spatial reasoning skills). With attention to these areas, NGA can meet its workforce needs during the next 20 years, and potentially well beyond.