The Intelligence Community Centers of Excellence, which are partly supported by NGA, are focused on improving the representation of minorities and women in critical competencies, such as information technology, language, political science and economics, science and engineering, and threat analysis.1 An example of centers that both generate mission-specific knowledge and train the next generation of experts are the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) centers of excellence. Established as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002,2 the centers are intended to enhance homeland security by generating knowledge and ideas for new technologies in a wide range of subjects. Major themes of the centers include terrorism; microbial risk; zoonotic disease; food security; preparedness; explosive-related threats; border security; maritime and remote resources; coastal areas; transportation; and command, control, and interoperability. Each center is led by a university, often in collaboration with other universities, national laboratories, nongovernmental organizations, government agencies, and private companies. A few of the centers touch on emerging areas discussed in this report. For example, the Center of Excellence in Command, Control, and Interoperability at Purdue University covers visual analytics for security applications. Many of the centers also provide education and training to students and/or professionals. For example, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism offers a graduate certificate in terrorism analysis and an undergraduate minor in terrorism studies, and the Center for Maritime, Island and Remote and Extreme Environment Security offers professional development courses in port-security sensing technologies.
Centers of excellence can be effective sources of innovation, especially those housed in private companies (e.g., Frost et al., 2002). Centers located in universities also create a culture that links research and the government, potentially facilitating recruitment and increasing the pool of graduates with knowledge and skills needed by the sponsor agency (or agencies), depending on how long funding is sustained. Multiple years of support are commonly required to build education programs as well as to fund graduate students with dissertation or thesis topics of direct interest to an agency.
UARCs and centers of excellence have a physical home, although many participants do not work there. A virtual center may or may not have a home, but usually consists of a leader and appointed or self-selected members who work on a common goal from their own institutions. Virtual centers are easy to establish (and disestablish) and relatively inexpensive to operate, and the structure can be customized to the need. Maintaining a virtual center can be as simple as providing a web server and supporting conferencing.
Virtual centers are often created where fields are evolving rapidly and the necessary skills and knowledge for advancing them are scattered across many institutions. Indeed, virtual clearinghouses for curriculum and contact information were essential for the development of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) studies (e.g., Kemp and Goodchild, 1992) and are now being used to help develop the visual analytics field (Thomas and Cook, 2006). Virtual centers could provide several types of benefits to NGA, including providing a means to build emerging areas in universities or to facilitate collaboration among NGA offices or partner organizations.
An example of a virtual center focused on facilitating research collaborations is the Research Information Centre, which was developed jointly by Microsoft Research Connections and The British Library. The center provides management software tools, such as domain-specific project site templates, calendars, task lists, wikis, blogs, and surveys (Barga et al., 2007). Tools for automating collaboration among research groups across locations and disciplines are now under construction (Procter et al., 2011). Some of these are entire learning systems aimed at instruction; some support the building of common reference data, bodies of knowledge, and toolsets; and others are geared toward
1 See <www.nsu.edu/iccae/pdf/IC-CAEGuidanceAndProcedures.pdf>. A list of centers can be found at <http://www.nsa.gov/ia/academic_outreach/nat_cae/institutions.shtml>.
2 Public Law 107-296. See also <http://www.dhs.gov/homeland-security-centers-excellence>.