— The March memo establishing joint acquisition of most intelligence programs did not address one significant issue – dealing with the dual requirements of the military and intelligence communities – according to several sources familiar with the issue.
“The key piece here is that they have not resolved the dual requirements process,” said a source familiar with the yearlong discussions between the office of director of National Intelligence, and the Defense Department’s acquisition experts about requirements and acquisition. “The government has lost its ability to manage its intelligence enterprise and they are making all this far too complicated.”
Without a strong mutual requirements process for programs that both communities must use, the recent decision to share acquisition authority may not be enough to improve intelligence acquisition, several sources with acquisition expertise said.
However, the source familiar with the ongoing discussion between the two sides said that over the course of the last two years, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has successfully helped shape requirements through its control of the budgeting process.
“Acquisition excellence probably doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have an excellent requirements process at the beginning,” said a former senior intelligence official. “No good program manager can deliver against a set of badly defined or vague requirements.”
The military’s requirement process is led by each service and overseen by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council. Military requirements for complex systems can run to hundreds of pages and are often extremely detailed. But the oversight council “is tactically driven and can’t really define a capability, as opposed to a specific technology,” said the source familiar with the discussions.
The intelligence community’s requirements are defined by the National Intelligence Community Mission Requirements Board, known as the MRB. Intelligence requirement documents are typically much shorter and simpler than military requirements, according to three sources with extensive experience in intelligence acquisition.
One former intelligence official said earlier intelligence satellite requirements were sometimes as short as one page and simply described the resolution of the sensors and the revisit rate of the satellite.
“I remember a recent major program had something like 17 key performance parameters,” said one former senior intelligence official, who agreed that intelligence requirements are generally simpler and shorter than those generated by the military.
Also, the source familiar with the discussions said the requirements board suffers from being “a consensus driven organization. It doesn’t have the discipline of generating specific requirements.”
The very different approaches and goals of the two bodies leave them fundamentally incapable of effective cooperation, said the source: “You have these two systems that are basically disharmonious.”
Several officials with long experience in intelligence acquisition who were interviewed for this article said the absence of a common requirements process would leave both the military and the intelligence community vulnerable to debacles such as the recently canceled Space Radar program.
The program, largely an invention of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, lurched along for almost seven years, crippled by a battle between the intelligence community and the military.
The Pentagon insisted that the program offer tactically valuable moving target indication – or some variant of that capability – and the intelligence community was equally adamant that it had to have staring sensors to provide strategic data.
While some compromises were made between the two sides, cost estimates for the entire program reached as high as $40 billion. The National Reconnaissance Office announced earlier this month that the Space Radar program had been killed because it was just too expensive.
“Whose requirements will carry the day,” asked one congressional aide who expressed concern about the lack of consensus on requirements.
One indicator of the complexity of the relationship between the intelligence and military communities in the
was the number of job responsibilities held by Air Force Maj. Gen. John “Tom” Sheridan. He was deputy director at the National Reconnaissance Office, as well as program executive officer for Space Radar. As a second congressional aide said of Space Radar and the requirements issue, “Even Sheridan at the end of the day said, we have a problem with requirements.”
Instituting some sort of shared requirements process is “the only way to get some of these things, like if you are really going to do a space radar capability,” the aide said.
A new approach on Space Radar should be ready for presentation to Congress, the military and the intelligence community before the end of April, according to several sources.
Regardless of just how well the military and intelligence communities function together, the current intelligence requirements system does not function as simply or as well as it did in the past, the former senior intelligence official said.
Part of the problem is that senior officials, known as principals, are “rarely able” to schedule time to meet. And because of the enormous complexity of newer satellite systems and the nature of their jobs as policymakers, this source believes that “the principals often were not well informed enough to make decisions.”