House appropriators press for details on Space Force cost and organization

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Lawmakers say they are missing key pieces of information about the cost of the proposed Space Force, as well as costs estimates for the new U.S. Space Command and the Space Development Agency.

WASHINGTON — Members of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee told Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Wednesday that they need more information about the long-term costs of the Pentagon’s new space organizations. They warned that failure to provide more detailed cost estimates could delay passage of an appropriations bill for the Defense Department for fiscal year 2020.

During a hearing on the Defense Department’s budget request, Subcommittee Chairman Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) said the panel is preparing to begin on May 15 its markup of the military budget for fiscal year 2020. He said appropriators want to ensure a budget is passed before the current fiscal year ends September 30, but warned the subcommittee is still missing key pieces of information about the cost of the proposed Space Force, as well as cost estimates for U.S. Space Command and the Space Development Agency.

The day before the hearing, an op-ed penned by Shanahan titled “It’s Time to Create an American Space Force” appeared in The Wall Street Journal. “Our proposal places the U.S. Space Force within the Department of the Air Force, similar to the way the Marine Corps resides within the Department of the Navy. The additional cost for the U.S. Space Force will be $72 million in the first year. This is a small price. America’s economic vitality and military strength depend on continued dominance in space,” Shanahan wrote.

But HAC-D member Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) said she found it “astonishing” that appropriators are still in the dark about many aspects of the proposed Space Force. “I had a briefing recently,” she said. Her takeaway: “We don’t really know enough of what we’re doing,” said Granger. “The case was made that it’s a very, very important program. But I think it would be very helpful for us to have more information about it and on the way forward so we can be supportive,” she added. “I would hate to lose a program like that just because we don’t really understand what’s going on.”

In response to the criticism from Granger, Shanahan acknowledged that DoD could do better at communicating the rationale and cost of the space reorganization. “We’re thinking about organizing a ‘Space Day’ up here on the Hill so we can brief members and their staffs … in a less DoD-like vernacular,” he said. Briefings should be “succinct and clear on what the benefits and what the resources required to implement the space agenda.”

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) noted that the Pentagon floated a $2 billion five-year cost estimate for the Space Force but only submitted one-year requests for U.S. Space Command and the Space Development Agency. “The details of the implementation of the Space Force are yet to be developed,” Calvert said. DoD is asking for authorities to transfer funding and personnel from the Air Force to the Space Force, but specifics are fuzzy, Calvert suggested. “It’s easy to spend money this year. But what happens in 2021 and later years?” The picture is “incomplete,” Calvert said.

Calvert has raised concerns about the Space Development Agency draining resources from the Los Angeles-based Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. He met on Wednesday with Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin and came away with a much more positive attitude about the SDA, Calvert said. He had a “very good discussion” with Griffin about SDA’s plans to develop next-generation technology, Calvert commented. “It’s true that this new dimension is something we need to move on as quickly as quickly,” he said. “Transparency on how we do that improved today. I appreciate that, and we’ll be keeping track of that.”

But he agreed with Visclosky that the Pentagon needs to be more forthcoming about future costs. “I really don’t have a problem other than how this Space Force is going to be put together and how we pay for it,” saidCalvert. “We have a very short timeline so any information we need to have, we need to get as soon as possible.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart  (R-Fla.), said he too would like to hear more about the Space Force. “I do look forward to getting some real answers,” he said.

Defense appropriators complained about a lack of information despite efforts by Pentagon officials to brief lawmakers and staffs since the proposal was rolled out in late February.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill discussing the proposal,” Stephen Kitay, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said last week in a speech. “As you might imagine they are doing a lot of oversight on this topic because it is a big move for our nation.”

Shanahan has said he wants Congress to authorize the Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military in the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Even if the new branch is authorized, DoD will need the House and Senate appropriations committees to approve the funds to pay for it.