NRO Disputes Major Finding of Congressional Report

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office on Aug. 6 challenged a finding in a congressional report that the agency buys spy satellites at a faster rate than it can use them.

In a statement emailed to SpaceNews, the NRO pointed to its internal processes and many layers of oversight, one of them being Congress, that help ensure the proper balance between risk and affordability on its satellite acquisition programs.

“All NRO major acquisition programs are reviewed and evaluated by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense; funding for the programs must subsequently be authorized and appropriated by the Congress after their own rigorous, independent review,” the statement said. “The internal NRO process, and all external oversight organizations and processes overseeing NRO acquisition programs, ensure that the best balance between risk and affordability is achieved, and the systems are not bought in advance of need.”

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, one of the NRO’s congressional oversight panels, released a report July 31 saying the NRO is buying intelligence satellites at a faster rate than necessary and could save billions of dollars in the next decade by scaling back orders. The committee said the NRO’s buying habits stem from a risk-averse mentality and concerns about the health of critical component suppliers that are based on unverified feedback from its prime contractors.

The congressional report, which was based on a broader examination of intelligence community acquisition, recommended, among other things, the NRO consider purchasing some spy satellites on an as-needed basis. The report also recommended that the director of national intelligence verify the NRO’s assumptions about the health of its industrial base and that prime contractors notify the agency of single-source component suppliers on programs.