WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is trying to move ahead with reforms to how it acquires space systems, even as a report outlining significant legislative changes has gotten held up by the Office of Management and Budget.
Released in May, the Department of the Air Force report recommends nine specific proposals to improve contracting under the newly established U.S. Space Force. While most of the changes can be undertaken independently by the Department of Defense, three recommendations would require legislative action by Congress. But according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration Shawn Barnes, the report has yet to get past OMB, which oversees the President’s budget proposals and ensures legislation proposed by agencies is consistent with the administration.
“[It’s] still not on the hill. I’m a little frustrated by that, but I think we’re very close with OMB at this point and I think we’re just about there,” said Barnes during a July 30 call with reporters. “There are a couple of sticking points, but I’m not going to talk about those directly here.”
Barnes continued on to say that OMB had no issues with the vast majority of the report.
And while the Air Force has to wait for legislative action on some recommendations, Barnes said they are already moving ahead with internal reforms, such as establishing a distinct Space Force budget.
“We’re in the process of figuring out how to implement those actions within the alt-acquisition report that don’t require any legislative change, and of the somewhat less than ten of those specific actions, probably six of them are within the Department of Defense’s ability to get after. So we’re building implementation plans for that,” he said.
The most important recommendation in the report, at least according to the Air Force, is budgetary. They want to be able to consolidate Space Force budget line items along mission portfolios, such as missile warning or communications, instead of by platforms, allowing them more flexibility to move funding between related systems without having to submit reprogramming requests to Congress. This was a point of contention between the Pentagon and legislators last year, as the Air Force issued repeated reprogramming requests to secure the funding needed to push up the delivery date of the first Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellite.
Barnes insisted that managing funding at the portfolio would give the Space Force more flexibility to react to program developments without sacrificing transparency. While funding would not longer be broken out at the program level, it could still be expressed at a lower level, he said.
“We would still be breaking it down at a subordinate level but what we would hope is that we would have the ability to still move money from one of those subordinate levels to another, and that’s where we can have that transparency,” he explained.
Nathan Strout was the staff editor at C4ISRNET, where he covered the intelligence community.