House Intel Panel Seeks Reform of NRO Acquisition

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The U.S. House committee that oversees the nation’s spy satellites plans to include language in its latest authorization bill to reform the National Reconnaissance Office’s satellite procurement practices, the panel’s chairman said.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence 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 report said the NRO’s buying habits stem from a risk-averse mentality, including concerns about the health of critical component suppliers that are based on unverified feedback from its prime contractors.

In an Aug. 13 interview at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium here, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence panel, said the report has already started a discussion at the NRO on how to buy satellites more efficiently.

In the future, “it’s going to be what do we have to have,” he said. “What do we have to have to stay current? What do we have to have to never have a gap? That’s sometimes a different discussion than ‘I’d like to have two or three of those, and two or three of those.’ It’s all budget driven.”

The House report, which was based on a broader examination of intelligence community acquisition, recommended, among other things, that 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.

In response to the report, the NRO said plenty of oversight already exists, including from Congress, to ensure it does not buy satellites before they are needed.

Asked about the NRO’s response, Rogers stood his ground, saying “there is room for improvement” in NRO acquisition.

“We can do this in a way that saves money, continues to support our industrial base and continues to allow them to stay in this complicated business and save some money at the end of the day,” Rogers said.

Rogers stressed that Congress will not dictate the NRO’s mission schedule.

The House and Senate have each passed their versions of the authorization act, which is largely classified. Those versions will be reconciled in an upcoming conference between the Senate and House intelligence oversight committees.

Rogers has said he will not seek re-election in November.