Lawmakers press White House for space acquisition chief

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Lawmakers are pressing the Biden administration to appoint a dedicated space acquisition chief, raising concerns that lack of leadership in the area has led to costly programs and delayed scheduling on key systems, like GPS.

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chair Betty McCollum said the lack of a civilian acquisition chief for space operations was a significant problem and that the Air Force treated it like a "part-time job."

"The Department of the Air Force has yet to resolve fundamental issues on roles, responsibilities, and authorities between its various space acquisition units," McCollum said May 7 during opening remarks for a hearing on the Air and Space Force's 2022 budget request, which hasn't been finalized.

"Overseeing and leading an organization attempting to deliver such technically complex systems is not a part-time job, which is how it has been handled in the past," she said, later adding that the space acquisition executive should be in charge of synchronizing space programs, plans and budgets department-wide.

McCollum urged the Biden administration to fill the role as "more than 80% of the Space Force's funding goes toward acquisition."

The lawmakers' comments come following government watchdog reports concerning the Air Force's acquisition schedule delays from satellites to its GPS efforts. But Congress may have to step in with a legislative fix.

The role of space acquisition executive, which can be filled by the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration, has been vacant since it was created under the 2020 defense authorization bill.

John Roth, the Air Force's acting secretary, said the position should have been filled last year and needs to be filled as soon as possible. "That is a key position," Roth said, adding that the Air Force has reorganized the office in preparation for the role.

"That position will not become the space acquisition executive until 1 October 2022. And that is part of the problem and perhaps one of the reasons why it wasn't filled last year as well," Roth said.

Roth suggested that Congress amend legislation so that the position can be official sooner and no later than October 2022 "so the person, once they're up to speed, can start taking on some of the SAE responsibilities."

The Space Force previously announced that it was restructuring its acquisition organization, the Space and Mission Systems Center, which will become Space Systems Command, after nomination and confirmation of a commander this summer.

Gen. John Raymond, who also testified, concurred with the need for a space acquisition executive and said the service was launching a new space testing program that would integrate testing throughout the acquisition process.

"All the pieces are in place," Raymond said.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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