Air Force Barbara Barrett, U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond and Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, Space Force Senior Enlisted Advisor, present the Space Force flag to President Donald Trump on May 15, 2020, in the Oval Office. Credit: White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

WASHINGTON — A Department of the Air Force report sent to Congress last week proposing changes to Space Force acquisition programs was an “initial version” and not the final product, the service said in a statement Friday.

The report titled “Alternative Acquisition System for the United States Space Force” that congressional committees received on May 20 was not the final version, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement to SpaceNews on Friday. “The Department of the Air Force is still working with DoD and interagency partners to finalize it.” Stefanek said the final version will be delivered to Congress soon.

The report was written in response to a congressional mandate. Congress in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act directed Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett to propose alternative acquisition processes to help speed up the development and lower the cost of space systems.

Barrett, the top civilian leader of the Air Force and the Space Force, in the report lays out a list of suggested changes to procurement laws and regulations. She describes the recommendations as a “bold set of new acquisition authorities and policies” to ensure the Space Force gets the needed technologies to stay ahead of adversaries.

The Air Force did not comment on why the report is being revised.

According to sources, the Air Force sent the report to congressional committees May 21 and notified them on Friday that what they had received was not the final version.

The report proposes changes to DoD administrative processes and also to the way Congress funds space programs. The report argues that current budgeting and funding processes slow things down and the Space Force needs more flexibility to move money from one program to another. One of the recommendations in the report is for Congress to fund large procurements incrementally over multiple years rather than require DoD to request funding for the entire program upfront.

The Senate and House Armed Services Committees in the 2020 NDAA called for sweeping change in space acquisitions and asked the Air Force to propose alternative approaches to the current system.

Chief of Space Operations of the U.S. Space Force Gen. John Raymond said the task given by the NDAA “was to develop a new acquisition process purpose built for space. And we’ve completed that work.”

During a call with reporters on May 20, Raymond said he could not comment on the specifics of the report because it had not yet been sent to Capitol Hill. He said the “cornerstones are increased flexibility, being able to move at speed, coming up with opportunities for further delegation and streamlining,” he said. “We partnered with a lot of other acquisition organizations like the National Reconnaissance Office, like NASA … anybody who had a role in acquisition specifically as it relates to space and got the best authorities that they had from each of them, and custom built and expanded on those.”

Leeway to allocate money

Sources familiar with the space acquisition report said some of the recommendations to reduce Pentagon red tape and simplify administrative processes would be widely supported by Congress.

These sources said some of the most controversial items in the report are proposals that would impact congressional oversight of DoD spending.

One of the recommendations is to consolidate budget line items into “portfolios.” Dozens of separate budget lines, for example, would be organized under mission areas like missile warning, communications and navigation, offensive space control, defensive space control and launch. The rationale is that this would make it easier to reallocate funding without time-consuming reprogramming actions.

This would give the Space Force more autonomy to move money across a broad range of programs.

Another recommendation that appears to have raised eyebrows, according to sources, is for Congress to “incrementally” fund large programs like satellite procurements so the cost is divided into two or more annual portions, or increments. Congress then approves each year’s increment in that year’s budget.

Currently Congress requires “full funding” of a program upfront. The Air Force argues in the report that full funding requirements create budget “spikes” that cause disruptions in schedules and undermine the industrial base. The report says incremental funding provides more flexibility to move money to where it’s more urgently needed.

Critics of incremental funding contend that Congress instituted full funding requirements so the total procurement cost of a system is understood upfront. Full funding also gives Congress more power to ensure a program it supports is protected and not vulnerable to changing political winds in a future Congress.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...