Space Force acquisition management criticized by House appropriators

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Defense committee says not having a senior civilian acquisition executive for space is a “fundamental problem."

WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations defense subcommittee in a report released July 13 blasts the U.S. Space Force for not having a dedicated civilian leader in charge of acquisitions.

The committee is “most concerned that the Department of the Air Force has no Senate-confirmed senior civilian leader solely focused on space with authority over acquisition, budget, and long-term planning,” says the report accompanying the fiscal year 2021 funding bill for the Defense Department that the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up on Tuesday.

The HAC defense subcommittee approved the bill on July 8 in a closed session.

“The Space Force does not yet have a dedicated Service Acquisition Executive to focus exclusively on these unique acquisition challenges,” says the report, calling this a “fundamental problem which must be addressed for the Space Force to succeed.”

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Pentagon to name an assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration. Will Roper is the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition and he oversees both Air Force and Space Force programs.

The NDAA says a senior acquisition executive position for the Space Force must be established by 2022. But defense appropriators believe it should be done sooner. “Unlike the other services, the Space Force budget is dominated by unique technology-driven investments and system acquisitions with research and development and procurement accounting for more than 80 percent of the Space Force budget, with only 16 percent for operations,” the report says.

The committee “strongly urges the Secretary of the Air Force to accelerate the transition of the Service Acquisition Executive authority to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration and to seek a space acquisition professional to serve in this position.”

A key challenge for the Space Force, says the report, is “addressing the slow pace of acquisition, accelerating the delivery of next-generation capabilities, and improving its systems engineering and programmatic discipline, particularly with respect to cost and schedule. The unique nature of space program management and systems engineering require dedicated civilian oversight and control for space programs.”

The bill adds $15 million for the assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration. The funds are for “systems engineering and planning to ensure the integration of Space Force capabilities across the national security space enterprise and user community.”

The committee “expects the Space Force will devote more time, attention, and funding to critical support capabilities, particularly with the weather satellite program and future strategic satellite communications program,” the report says.