What little-known agency occupies the third-largest federal facility in the Washington, D.C., area (after the Pentagon and the Ronald Reagan building)? Last year, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), part of the Department of Defense, moved into the 2.77 million-square-foot NGA Campus East (NCE), a newly constructed complex on Fort Belvoir North Area in Springfield, Virginia. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the new, LEED Gold–certified campus in September 2007. According to NGA Director Letitia Long, the agency “was intimately involved in all facets of the design from the earliest stages, meaning that the campus is purpose built to enable the workforce to deliver better geospatial intelligence (GEOINT).”
The agency’s primary mission is to collect, analyze and distribute GEOINT—which it defines as “the exploitation of imagery, imagery intelligence and geospatial data to describe, assess and depict features and activities and their location on the Earth”—in support of national security as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the NGA is a key component of the U.S. Intelligence Community, a cooperative federation of 16 government agencies that work both separately and together. White House and military officials credited the NGA with providing crucial information in support of the operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed. The agency’s budget is classified.
The NGA was headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, until September 2011, when it consolidated its major East Coast operations and facilities at NCE, in a move authorized by the 2005 BRAC. The five-building facility consists of a visitor control center, a 5,100-space parking garage, the main office building, a technology center, and a central utility plant. The main building consists of two eight-story wings that are each 900 feet long by 130 feet wide, roughly the size of two aircraft carriers parked side by side. The wings, which are connected by a 500-foot-long, 120-foot-wide atrium with a roof made out of the same lightweight, translucent material used on the Beijing Olympic Water Cube, are broken into five color-coded neighborhoods to ease navigation through the enormous building. The facility now houses 8,500 NGA employees—including government civilians, members of the military, and contractors—who make up about two-thirds of the agency’s workforce; the remaining third are based at two St. Louis facilities.