Kendall reorganizes Space Force acquisition office,  wants faster merger with Space Development Agency

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Brig. Gen. Steve Whitney, director of space programs at the Department of the Air Force, will oversee space acquisitions temporarily until a political appointee is nominated and confirmed

COLORADO SPRINGS — U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall announced Aug. 24 he is reorganizing the office that oversees Space Force acquisition programs. He also is moving to bring the Space Development Agency under the Department of the Air Force sooner than the congressional deadline. 

Kendall was confirmed by the Senate in late July as the department’s top civilian, overseeing both the Air Force and the Space Force. 

In a keynote speech at the 36th Space Symposium, Kendall said he was “impressed” by how fast the Space Force has progressed since it was established in December 2019. One area that has lagged, however, is procurement, he said. 

The Space Force has a Space Systems Command that runs acquisitions programs. But setting up the civilian oversight of space acquisitions at the Department of the Air Force has not moved as fast as lawmakers would like, Kendall said. 

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Pentagon to name a senior acquisition executive position for the Space Force with the title of assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration. Currently the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition oversees both Air Force and Space Force programs, a portfolio that runs the gamut from airplanes to satellites.

The NDAA set an October 2022 deadline to stand up the office and name an assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration (A&I). 

Kendall said he is moving to immediately establish the A&I office under the Department of the Air Force’s acquisition shop. Air Force calls the space acquisitions office SAF/SQ, which is separate from SAF/AQ that handles Air Force programs.

For the past year, the A&I office resided under the Air Force’s space policy shop and was run by Shawn Barnes. Kendall said he removed Barnes and put Brig. Gen. Steve Whitney, director of space programs at the Department of the Air Force, in charge of space acquisitions temporarily until an assistant secretary for space A&I is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. 

Barnes was assigned a new job as a legislative liaison at the Department of the Air Force’s financial management office. 

Darlene Costello is currently the acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. The Biden administration nominated Andrew Hunter for this position but he’s still awaiting Senate confirmation. Both Whitney and Costello report directly to Kendall. 

Kendall said DoD is reviewing candidates for the space A&I position and a nominee will be announced soon. “We are hopeful Congress will give us the option to move more quickly in this year’s authorization bill,” he said. 

Another “immediate step” Kendall is taking is to begin to transition the Space Development Agency into the Department of the Air Force. SDA is currently a DoD agency that reports to the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering Heidi Shyu. 

Congress in the NDAA set an October 2022 deadline to move SDA to the Department of the Air Force “but there is no need to wait until then to strengthen the cooperation between SDA and the Space Force,” said Kendall. 

“We’re going to step it up a notch as we move closer to bringing SDA into the Air Force,” said Kendall. He and Shuy have agreed to “expedite the transition of SDA,” he said. “There is no reason why we shouldn’t begin to move aggressively in that direction.”