DoD Space Force proposal seeks special authorities to transfer people and programs from other services

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The Pentagon estimates it could take at least five years to align personnel and funding for the Space Force until it reaches its projected size of 12,000 to 15,000 people, most of whom would come from existing organizations.

WASHINGTON — In a draft proposal to establish a United States Space Force inside the Department of the Air Force, the Pentagon would ask Congress to approve “special temporary authorities” for the secretary of defense to transfer personnel, programs and other resources from other services to the new branch.

The special authorities would extend over a five-year transition period, starting on the day the new branch is authorized by Congress, with an option to request an additional two-year extension, says a draft of the DoD proposal labeled “pre-decisional” that was reviewed by SpaceNews. The document has to be approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget before it is submitted to Congress.

During the five-year transition, according to the draft proposal, the Secretary of Defense could “transfer officers and enlisted members of the armed forces within the Department of Defense to become officers and enlisted members of the United States Space Force.” Transfers could be made on a voluntary or involuntary basis.

The proposal suggests the Pentagon believes it could take that long to align personnel and funding for the Space Force until it reaches its projected size of 12,000 to 15,000 people, most of whom would come from existing organizations.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who has led the Space Force planning from the beginning, has said the new branch will be a lean organization and that most of its resources will come from within the Defense Department. The White House agreed that minimizing overhead costs was necessary to ensure congressional support. Many lawmakers initially rejected the idea of standing up a new branch if it was going to add more bureaucracy to the Defense Department. To keep overhead expenses down, the administration decided to set aside for now the idea of a new Department of the Space Force and backed the Pentagon’s recommendation to place the space service under the Department of the Air Force.

The challenge for DoD now is to figure out how to make all this happen. The thinking is that military officers and enlisted personnel in space-focused occupations — most of them currently in the Air Force — would willingly transfer over. Army space units also would be expected to move over. But all of this is theoretical.

Moving jobs and people could be complicated. In most cases when DoD moves personnel, it moves the slots connected to a mission area. The person holding the job that is being transferred could choose to move or be reassigned to a different job elsewhere,  a former DoD official explained. “So if you have an Army captain who does space and whose slot is moved,  he will be given a choice to stay in his slot and move to the new space force,  or to move to a different slot in the Army in a different career field.” He said civilian slots could create challenges due to civil service rules and the right to appeal any personnel changes. The former official said DoD could draw congressional ire if people end up being fired for refusing to move or transferred to the new service involuntarily.

DoD officials point out that many details have yet to be sorted through. A new military service has not been created since 1947 and that the Pentagon only had eight months to draw up a plan for a Space Force since President Trump issued the order in June. As Shanahan noted in a speech last fall, the Defense Department’s playbook for establishing a new service is “out of date, so we don’t really have something to go pull off the shelf.”

As directed by the Trump administration in a policy memo unveiled on Tuesday, the Pentagon’s legislative proposal says the Space Force will be led by a four-star Chief of Staff of the Space Force who will be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A civilian Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space, to be known as the Under Secretary for Space, would be appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

If Congress enacts the proposal, the Space Force headquarters would initially be small and it will be up to the senior leadership to start building the ranks with military and civilian personnel from existing space organizations. A December memo from the Pentagon’s cost assessment and program evaluation office suggested that, if the Space Force is authorized in fiscal year 2020, only about 140 people would need tp transfer to staff the headquarters. But starting in 2021, as many as 10,000 people could be moved, along with $8 billion worth of space programs, most of which currently are owned by the Air Force.

The proposal makes it clear that service members who are transferred would not lose grade, status, pay or benefits. Personnel moved to the Space Force “shall retain the grade and date of obtaining such grade that the individual person had before the date of the transfer,” says the draft. A transfer would not “alter or prejudice the status of any individual … so as to deprive the individual of any right, benefit, or privilege to which the individual may be entitled under law due to the service of the individual in an armed force within the Department of Defense other than the Space Force.”

DoD also is seeking authorities during the transition period for the Secretary of Defense to draw up regulations regarding transfers of civilian personnel among the military departments and other components of the Department of Defense, and any necessary reductions or adjustments in force. Civilians would not suffer any loss of or decrease in pay as a result of the transfer.

The Secretary of Defense also would request authority to direct the transfer of equipment, supplies and records from other military department or DoD component to the Department of the Air Force, and transfer organizations or functions within the Department of Defense to the Space Force, including civilian personnel, assets and equipment. Funding balances from appropriations for space programs currently available for obligation by other military departments also could be transferred to the new branch.