WASHINGTON – U.S. Defense Department leaders suggested to government auditors that to improve the management and oversight of the national security space enterprise, the Pentagon should consider creating a single space force, one that would handle duties currently divided between the National Reconnaissance Office and at least seven other Defense Department agencies.

Debating the best organizational structure for the Pentagon’s space programs has been a decades long exercise for the national security space community. In a report released July 26, the Government Accountability Office said national security experts and Defense Department leaders recommended a series of reforms and the congressional watchdog agency studied three of those ideas.

Among the suggestions the GAO considered:

  • Starting a Defense Space Agency that would combine military space functions currently spread out over eight agencies but would leave the NRO, which builds and operates the country’s spy satellites, intact.
  • Creating a Space Acquisition Agency that would combine the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, which handles the majority of the Defense Department’s space acquisitions, with the NRO, which performs the same tasks for the intelligence community.
  • Standing up a Space Force that would combine all military space agencies, including the NRO, and would be led by a civilian secretary.

Such changes “would likely involve significant short- term disruption to DOD’s space organizational structure, roles, and responsibilities,” the report said. “However, given the long-standing fragmentation in space leadership and consequent challenges faced by DOD in synchronizing its extensive space enterprise, proposals such as these that may entail disruptive changes may nevertheless deserve a closer look.”

The GAO said the proposals should receive closer examination if the current organizational structure, which has been in place less than a year, proves ineffective. In October 2015, Bob Work, the deputy secretary of defense, designated the Air Force secretary as the Principal DoD Space Advisor. In that role, the PDSA oversees the entire DoD space portfolio and acts as an adviser to senior Pentagon leadership.

Some defense leaders also suggested doing nothing but seeing how the current changes play out, the report said.

“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 report said.

Notably, the GAO found in 2012 that a lack of a government-wide authority hindered space situational awareness acquisition efforts.

The report, titled “Defense Space Acquisitions: Too Early to Determine If Recent Changes Will Resolve Persistent Fragmentation in Management and Oversight,” was sent to congressional defense committees and completed at the request of the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.

While not making any recommendations, the GAO said each of the reorganizations would offer benefits and drawbacks. A Defense Space Agency would not require changes for the intelligence community, but also would not consolidate all national security space activities. A Space Acquisition Agency would create a more cohesive approach for industry, but would require changes to the intelligence community’s change of command as well as more time and money to stand up a new organization. A Space Force would create visibility and attention, but would require congressional attention, an increased budget and may not shorten DoD review processes.

In a July 6 letter to the GAO, Defense Department leaders chafed at the ideas in the report.

“The Department does not concur with the GAO publishing this report at this time since it contains no new information on the reforms already adopted and states clearly that it is ‘too early to gauge’ whether these reforms are working,” said James MacStravic, a DoD acquisition official. “Identification of additional reforms for consideration before assessing the effectiveness of the existing reforms would be premature.”

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.