WASHINGTON — House appropriators want more information before they sign off on a sixth military branch for space, rejecting the Pentagon’s request for $72 million to build a Space Force headquarters.
Instead, a draft fiscal 2020 spending bill from the defense appropriations subcommittee would allot $15 million to the Defense Department, allowing it to come up with other alternatives to establishing a Space Force.
House Appropriations is the first of the four defense congressional committees to unveil its version of the FY20 budget. And while its spending proposal is far from a death knell for the Space Force, it exposes some lawmakers’ lack of confidence that a new military service for space should be established.
“While the Committee appreciates the intent of the proposal, the plan leaves many unanswered questions and lacks important details and supporting analysis to justify the proposed size, scope, cost, roles, and authorities for the new military service,” the committee wrote in the draft bill.
“Further, the Committee notes that it is fully within the Department’s current authority to make space a higher priority without creating a new military service and is not persuaded that the specific plan proposed justifies the additional overhead cost and disruption across the Department.”
The text of the legislation further specifies that the $15 million included in the bill should be used to examine alternative organizational constructs that can speed up decision-making and cut cost and bureaucracy, and notes that it does not endorse the stand up of the Space Force.
Ultimately, the Senate and House armed services committees will have the final say on whether to approve the establishment the Space Force. However, the congressional appropriations committees can essentially cripple the service by withholding the funding needed to get it off the ground.
The head of the House Armed Services Committee has made clear that the White Houses’ legislative proposal for the Space Force will not move through his committee without being amended.
“It’s going to be different from what the White House proposed,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in March. “Three more four-star generals are not going to make us stronger in space.”
The Pentagon has pitched the Space Force as a new branch of the military that would be under the Department of the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps is housed in the Department of the Navy. The Space Force would be led by a deputy secretary of the Space Force, who would be subordinate to the Air Force secretary. It would also have a four-star Space Force Chief of Staff, who would be part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Despite still having questions about the Space Force, the draft legislation states that the committee is aware of the importance of restructuring the military’s space bureaucracy in order to better respond to capabilities that adversaries are developing in order to assert dominance over U.S. space assets.
“The Committee commends the Department of Defense for its increased focus on addressing these threats and developing capabilities to improve the resilience of United States space systems,” the draft reads. “Further, the Committee understands that this is an urgent problem that will require the Department to reorient its strategies, organizational constructs, and program priorities to meet the reality of these threats.”
House appropriators were more supportive of the other two prongs of the department’s space reorganization proposal. It fully funds the standup of U.S. Space Command at about $84 million. It would also allocate full funding to the Space Development Agency — to the tune of about $150 million — once the department submits more information about the new acquisition organization and its relationship to existing space procurement offices.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.