Congress plans to keep a close eye on bloat in Space Force

Then-Lieutenant Governor of Marylan Anthony Brown speaking on cybersecurity. He is now a member of the House Armed Services Committee. (Maryland GovPics/Flickr)

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The Space Force should stay as lean as possible while ensuring it onboards tech talent, key members of Congress warned in the past week.

While the White House has yet to issue a full defense budget request, the Space Force is already getting warnings to not add any bureaucratic bloat to its spending, Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday.

“What we don’t want to see in the Space Force is a burgeoning headquarters and a Fourth Estate,” he said during a virtual Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

The Fourth Estate is the Department of Defense’s support agencies that are not part of the military services, like the Defense Information Systems Agency and Defense Contract Management Agency. Critics often point to these agencies as an easy target of defense budget cuts, and Brown gave the Space Force a preemptive warning not to start growing its own.

Brown did, however, extend his general support for the Space Force, given the advancement in space technology and the potential for conflicts in the domain.

Brown’s comments follow those from the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, who told Space and Air Force leaders Friday they need to hurry up in filling top acquisition and tech roles. The Department of the Air Force houses the Space Force.

“[W]hile progress has been made on the operations side, progress in addressing long-standing acquisitions issues has been disappointing so far,” Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said during a subcommittee hearing. “Too often over the past two decades, the space acquisitions programs have been delivered late, over budget, and sometimes billions of dollars over budget.”

That disappointment extends to issues before the Space Force started. The Government Accountability Office found space-based missile warning satellites nine years and $15 billion over budget. It’s an example of what McCollum wants to avoid in the future, she said.

“GAO also found in March 2019 that key software-intensive space programs often did not effectively engage users to understand requirements and obtain feedback,” the report stated.

McCollum described the efforts she has seen so far as only “minor tweaks around the edges” and not the wholesale, ground-up reform the Space Force has promised. She added that senior civilian leadership focused on space acquisition is a must, which Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond and acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth both agreed with.

“We have got to go faster in modernizing our space capabilities and delivering capabilities and putting them in the hands of the warfighter,” said Raymond during the hearing.

The force recently published a strategy to become a “digital service,” where it would leverage technology in all of its operations. The strategy even pitched the idea of allowing guardians, as Space Force service members are called, to be “digital nomads” working remotely instead of being chained to a desk.

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Acquisition, Congress, Department of Defense (DOD), FY 2022 Budget, House Armed Services Committee, John Raymond, Space Force
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