U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. Credit: Tom Kimmell

WASHINGTON – The position of the Defense Department’s principle adviser on space could be eliminated in a reworking of personnel, the current holder of the office said Jan. 6.

In her last public appearance as Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James said the position could be reworked depending on the needs of the department going forward.

James has served as the principle DoD space adviser (PDSA) since Deputy Defense Secretary  Bob Work named her to the position in October 2015.

“Another debate which we’re beginning to have relates to ‘is this the right structure to have in the department?’” James said at an event hosted by the Air Force Association. “Is having a principle defense space adviser the right performance strategy or is some other structure a more appropriate one?”

James emphasized that much of the decision is going to be left to members of the incoming Trump administration, starting with President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, whose Senate confirmation hearing is not currently among the half-dozen scheduled before Trump takes office Jan. 20.

“I think that will depend heavily on not only Congress — because different members of Congress have view points on it – but it will also depend I think quite heavily on the Secretary of Defense,” she said. “So if confirmed, [Mattis] will have views on this, and his deputy secretary of defense, whoever that turns out to be, would have views on this and their ideas would count a good deal because it goes to the question of how they’re going to be managing their team.”

The Trump administration has been looking at how they want to organize the nation’s space operations, including the possibility of resurrecting the National Space Council headed by the vice president which last operated during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.

James could wind up being the only person to hold the position. She was already serving as the Executive Agent for Space, when Work transformed that position into the PDSA.

“Sometimes people say ‘Wasn’t that just a change in the title?’ And the answer is no, it was not,” she said. “It was also a change in the representational aspects…Now I’m in the White House situation room, I’m in all the major DoD meetings, I’m advocating the position of the Department of Defense in space when it comes to some of these critical things like the money.”

Money has been one of the questions surrounding the PDSA position. James said the position currently does not have any acquisition authority, but she believes that the current system is working well.

She did note that some officials — especially members of Congress — have debated whether the position should be beefed up to include that authority.

In a July report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the government needs to seriously consider creating a “Space Acquisition Agency” that would combine military acquisition efforts headed by the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center with acquisition efforts from the intelligence community.

“We and others have reported for over two decades that fragmentation and overlap in DoD space acquisition management and oversight have contributed to program delays and cancellations, cost increases, and inefficient operations,” the GAO said in their report.

Ultimately, however, James said the Pentagon needs to use whichever structure will get things done.

“Organizational matters are meant to help you achieve the goals that you’re seeking to achieve. They’re not an end to themselves,” she said. “So we can give fancy titles and set up new organizations, but the proof is in the results.”

Phillip Swarts is the military space reporter for SpaceNews. He previously covered space and advanced technology for Air Force Times, the Justice Department for The Washington Times, and investigative journalism for the Washington Guardian;...