WASHINGTON — A day after House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said he plans to scrap the Trump administration’s Space Force proposal, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs defended that proposal.
The remarks came Tuesday at an HASC hearing after Smith announced he would look for alternatives, either in or separate from the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Smith ripped the proposed organization as “top-heavy” and accused the administration of attempting to undercut legal protections for federal employees.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon revealed its fiscal 2020 budget request, which would spend about $2 billion over five years on the Space Force and see roughly 15,000 space-related personnel transfer from existing roles to the new organization.
“Particularly around procurement and delivering capability, we have 10 different organizations in the department right now,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “This is an opportunity to have commonality across the whole department, something we have never been able to achieve. With that singular focus, we can drive greater integration into the combatant commands.”
But Smith has objected to the proposal’s addition of two new four-star generals and a new undersecretary of the Air Force, as well as the inclusion of “an almost unlimited seven-year personnel and funding transfer authority that seeks to waive a wide range of existing laws — all without a detailed plan or analysis of the potential end state or cost.”
Both Smith and the American Federation of Government Employees, which counts 300,000 Defense Department civilians in its ranks, voiced objections to the administration’s proposed exemption of its employees from key labor management relations law. Smith said the request for broad authority to “waive long-standing and effective elements of civil service rules, pay rates, merit-based hiring and senior civilian management practices” is an “attack on the rights of DoD civilian employees.”
Alluding to those issues, House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., asserted Congress would be able to tailor the Trump administration’s proposal to remove “poison pills,” and otherwise seemed to praise it as being close to the Space Corps proposal that passed the House Armed Services Committee two years ago.
Working in the Trump proposal’s favor is a $2 billion price tag that dwarfs an earlier $13 billion estimate; its status as subordinate to the Air Force; and the request that Space Force be upgraded to a unified combatant command, Cooper said.
“In these various ways, keeping it under the Air Force, not spending that much money and making it a command, we’re pretty much in sync on these priorities, right?” Cooper said. “I hope that we can work together to smooth out any rough edges in the proposal, not only to pass the House but pass the Senate.”
Saying “the basic elements are in place,” Shanahan said administration’s plan addresses Smith’s concerns about bureaucracy and cost in the near term and paves the way for future integration with the intelligence community, and the corps’ growth into its own military department in the long term.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, defended the idea of a new four-star general for space on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both as an advocate for resources and for strategic decision-making.
For example, the presence of Gen. John Hyten, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, adds value in such conversations: “When he’s been around, given his experience in space, the dialogue quickly changes. We think of things that we wouldn’t have otherwise thought about without him in the room,” Dunford said.
Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., an advocate of elevating Space Force to a unified combatant command, raised concerns about China’s militarization of space and the fragmented state of the U.S. military’s space bureaucracy. He cited the possibility that Congress could defer Space Force if it deadlocks on an FY20 budget and passes a continuing resolution at last year’s budget levels.
“We just don’t need to take that risk,” Shanahan said. "This is really about we have a $19 trillion economy that runs on space. That’s why a CR would be so painful.”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.