WASHINGTON — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is disbanding the Space Enterprise Council (SEC), an affiliate established in 2000 that lobbies U.S. policymakers on behalf of the domestic space industry, effective May 1, according to sources familiar with the situation.
The chamber’s surprise decision leaves the council, which has 35 dues-paying members and whose monthly meetings have become an important forum for interaction between U.S. government and space industry officials, facing an uncertain future. Sources said the council benefited from its loose affiliation with the chamber, a powerful lobbying organization that represents some 3 million businesses and organizations.
“The association with the chamber was a key to being part of this organization,” said one source.
Several sources said the chamber’s move came without warning and expressed disappointment both with the timing and with the way it was handled.
“This was completely out of the blue,” one source said.
Another source characterized the action as unfortunate and said it comes at a time when the space industry is facing major challenges.
According to sources, David Logsdon, the SEC’s executive director since 2004 and an employee of the chamber, was informed of the decision March 4. He will officially remain on the job until April 1 but has been barred from his office at the chamber’s Washington headquarters. Kenzie Swift, a research assistant and the council’s only other full-time employee, has been fired, the sources said.
Reached by phone at his home, Logsdon declined comment.
“The Space Enterprise Council was notified last week by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of its intention to dissolve the organization effective May 1st of this year,” Mike Bender, chairman of the SEC’s board and an employee of AlliantTechsystems, said in a written response to questions. “Since that time the Council has been approached by several other organizations that recognize the tremendous value and service that the group provides to the advancement of U.S. space commerce. The Council will now work with its 35 member companies to determine the best way forward for the organization and how it can best serve the interests of its constituents, and whether that is as part of another larger organization or in some other form.”
The statement noted that the Chamber of Commerce will continue to support the council’s activities until May 1.
Sources said they were unclear as to the chamber’s reasoning for disbanding the council, which they said was operating in the black and thus was not putting a financial burden on the host organization. The official reason given, they said, was that the SEC does not fit within the chamber’s international affairs division, where it has resided since its inception. But these sources noted that the chamber made no effort to find a more appropriate division to host the council, such as one that deals with government affairs or regulatory policy.
Some SEC members including Boeing Co. of Chicago, Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda , Md. , and Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles , also are members of the Chamber of Commerce. However, most SEC members are not, and this may have led to questions about how the council served the broader chamber membership, said one source.
Myron Brilliant, senior vice president of international affairs at the chamber, did not return phone calls seeking an explanation for the decision. Brilliant just recently took the reins of the international division; previously he was the chamber’s vice president for East Asia .
Bobby Maldonado, a spokesman for the chamber, did not respond by press time to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, the SEC’s board, which held its regularly scheduled meeting here March 10, is reviewing options for the organization’s future, sources said. The possibilities include finding a home within another industry group such as the National Association of Manufacturers, based here.
“It would seem that the National Association of Manufacturers would be a very appropriate home for the Space Enterprise Council,” said one source. This source and others noted that the National Association of Manufacturers is similar in many respects to the chamber, including the fact that it represents a wide range of companies.
Continuing on as a standalone organization is another possibility, although one source said that option has less appeal.
“What clout would [an unaffiliated SEC] have?” the source said.
Yet to be resolved is an issue concerning the SEC’s finances. According to several sources, the chamber is in possession not only of a reserve fund built up by the council over the years but also of dues paid by members for 2009. These sources said they did not know precisely how much of the council’s money the chamber had, but estimated the amount is more than $200,000. They said the SEC likely would seek reimbursement of the money.
When the SEC was founded in 2000, it was intended to represent the commercial space industry. In 2004, its portfolio was expanded to include military and civil space issues. As its membership grew so did its importance, not only as a unified industry voice in dealings with the government but also as a forum for frank dialogue between industry and policymakers, sources said. Among those who spoke to the council in off-the-record settings over the last year were then-NASA Administrator Mike Griffin and Gil Klinger, assistant deputy director of national intelligence for architecture, engineering and integration.
“Over the years the Space Enterprise Council has gotten to the point that it is kind of a go-to organization for the power centers in Washington including NASA, the Department of Defense and Congress,” one source said. “It was really hitting on all cylinders,” doing exactly what was envisioned when it was founded, the source said.