Government uses R & D partnerships to solve real challenges

Steve Panzer
Vice President, Government Division
Columbia, Md.

Many government organizations are tapping the private sector for technology and expertise to meet their missions more effectively. Leveraging resources, strengths and specialized skills to meet the unique needs of individual agencies, public-private partnerships can bring together the best of both worlds when implemented well. A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) is a unique partnership providing innovative technology solutions to the public sector. This partnership leverages private sector resources and knowledge, while providing agency-specific guidance and insight into its unique needs and challenges at no financial cost to the government.

Figure 1: A spatiotemporal rules engine filters a stream of real-time sensor-based data, identifying actionable intelligence.

A mutually beneficial public-private partnership, the CRADA offers both parties the opportunity to share technical expertise, ideas and information in a protected environment. Originally author-ized in 1986 as a means of expanding technology transfer between the private sector and federal laboratories, and deemed a major factor contributing to the economic strength of the United States, a CRADA agreement ultimately strives to advance science and technology that not only meets government objectives but also has viability in other potential commercial applications. The candid interactions that are nurtured through a CRADA bring public enterprises and private companies closer together for a mutual goal – delivering state-of-the-art technology solutions that solve real mission-critical problems.

As our country continues to face economic challenges, partnerships that leverage resources and stretch research budgets are increasingly critical to the government in meeting the needs of its citizens and in securing public confidence. Now more than ever, the government is expected to do more with less, and to get it right the first time. When establishing a CRADA, government works closely with the private sector to ensure that the custom developments and unique challenges of individual government agencies are built into the resulting products, more efficiently meeting the needs of the partner government agency while reducing costs and maximizing resources.

Solutions that solve agency-specific challenges

Agencies within the Intelligence Community, like all government agencies, face unique challenges that can be solved by leveraging private sector technology and expertise. Some of the key problems faced within the Intelligence Community include the constantly increasing need for skilled analysts, an ever-expanding amount of intelligence data to sift through, and the urgency to sift through these mounds of data to quickly locate actionable intelligence.

Figure 2: A spatiotemporal rules engine can track vehicle routing information, determining when two vehicles are within a given proximity of each other within a specified amount of time. Utilizing a “breadcrumb trail,” two vehicles need not be in the same place at the same time to alert security officials.

As senior analysts retire, there are fewer seasoned analysts to make sense of the deluge of information, so important data might be lost or overlooked, and critical trends are not identified. As junior analysts continually take the reins from senior analysts, it becomes even more crucial that procedures are captured and standardized, condensing manual intellectual labor so that more time can be spent identifying actionable intelligence.

Through a CRADA with geospatial solutions provider ObjectFX, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is moving quickly and efficiently to address these types of challenges by enhancing ObjectFX’s offerings and by defining and fine-tuning the features required for its newest product, a spatiotemporal rules engine (see Figure 1), designed with input through the CRADA specifically to address real-world Intelligence Community use cases and scenarios.

Working with NGA via a CRADA initially signed in 1999, ObjectFX has been providing its Java-based geospatial software platform, which enables the integration into enterprise applications of location-based services, like vehicle routing (see Figure 2) and address geocoding, for organizations throughout civilian, intelligence and defense communities. In response to its customers’ requests and needs, ObjectFX added support for geospatial data types, like raster/vector maps and high-resolution imagery specific to the intelligence community, as well as military standard 2525B symbology, to its suite of geospatial solutions.

Figure 3: This image of aircraft on the East Cost demonstrates the benefits of data reduction. Through customizable rule layers, a spatiotemporal rules engine enables users to sift through the deluge of real-time sensor-based information, locating the actionable intelligence. In this example, rule layers have been customized to pinpoint commercial aircraft that are too close together, those that have entered a “no-fly” zone, or any plane that is close to or has entered a severe weather zone.

When the intelligence community expressed the need for a spatiotemporal rules capability about three years ago, the focus shifted to developing and enhancing the SpatialRules functionality, and applying it towards multi-intelligence use cases within advanced geospatial intelligence. The initial major deployment of SpatialRules went live with another intelligence community mission partner in April, 2009.

SpatialRules is a spatiotemporal rules engine that manages a flood of real-time sensor-based information, enabling analysts to make better use of their time by more quickly and efficiently identifying actionable intelligence – getting the right information to the right people at the right time. A spatiotemporal rules engine is a software component for analyzing spatial and temporal conditions against a set of rules, in this instance scanning specific areas of interest for suspicious activity based on proximity, density, and routing and tracking information (see Figure 3). Before implementing this rules engine, intelligence analysts spent a significant amount of time retrieving data, studying movement patterns on a geospatial display, and manually detecting events for further investigation. A spatiotemporal rules engine significantly reduces the manual labor by automating the monitoring process, enabling geospatial event processing in real-time. Increased accuracy and efficiency of monitoring provide more time for analysis of high-interest objects or events, exponentially increasing the probability that critical information will reach its destination in time to impact a critical decision.
Through this ongoing partnership, NGA and the rest of the intelligence community benefit from direct, hands-on access to leading commercial, off-the-shelf tools and technologies that can be modified or created to meet custom intelligence needs and requirements. Infinitely renewable, these collaborative, cooperative, and mutually beneficial partnerships utilize known government providers with forward-thinking and innovative technologies to solve government problems at minimal cost. By combining resources like facilities, equipment, expertise and personnel, the government can meet their ultimate goal of doing more with less – stretching research budgets while consuming fewer resources.

A win-win situation for all

The CRADA provides equal opportunity to all private sector companies, enabling any qualified company with common research and development goals to enter into a CRADA agreement with a government agency. As the relationship is mutually beneficial, both the government agency and the private company meet specific organizational goals through the agreement. There is no monetary exchange in a CRADA, satisfying a goal for the government agency, as there is no direct budget impact. Although the private company does not receive financial compensation, the agreement provides distinct advantages for the private company.

The CRADA provides companies with direct insight into specific needs of government agencies (within defined security clearance boundaries, of course). Companies are also able to access agency data, data standards and processes within the designated facility, running it through their technology to enable a better understanding of specific use cases and scenarios.

Companies gain an added benefit of acquiring more depth of knowledge regarding the government agencies they serve, expanding that company’s expert-ise and value with other government agencies moving forward. Proprietary rights and ideas of the private company are also protected. In signing this agreement, all parties agree to keep research results confidential until published or commercialized, and the private sector research partner typically takes title to any new inventions.

In order to meet the needs of government agencies and their customer bases most efficiently, public-private partnerships are gaining momentum. The government’s demands for more advanced technological innovations while balancing smaller budgets can be met through the CRADA, truly a mutually beneficial relationship between a federal agency and a private company. While our country continues to face economic hardship, partnering with the private sector not only provides more quickly commercialized technology that directly addresses the needs of individual government agencies, but by optimizing resources, it stretches the research and development budget, enabling taxpayer dollars to travel further in support of our nation’s missions.

Editor's Note: More information on the NGA CRADA program is available on the web at The NGA CRADA team is available to field questions on the program and can be reached via email at
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