WASHINGTON A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers urged Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper to fully fund a 10-year commercial satellite imagery procurement program that they fear will be scaled back due to budgetary pressures.

In a Nov. 22 letter, the lawmakers said reducing the EnhancedView program’s funding profile could undermine the Pentagon’s credibility in negotiating future contracts for commercial space services including launch and telecommunications, especially when companies are being asked to make substantial upfront investments.

“In this period of extreme fiscal restraint, this partnership represents a creative solution that should be applauded and emulated,” the lawmakers said.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in August 2010 awarded EnhancedView contracts to imaging satellite operators DigitalGlobe and GeoEye with a combined value of $7.3 billion over 10 years. The contracts helped underwrite investment by the companies in new satellites, whose imagery will supplement data collected by the government’s own classified imaging satellites.

But NGA officials and lawmakers alike fear the program is vulnerable as the U.S. government faces intense pressure to reduce its spending. The Pentagon alone could be facing a $1 trillion spending reduction over the next decade.

In their letter, the lawmakers, including Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), all members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the Defense Department is considering “major reductions that could potentially result in severe damage” to the EnhancedView program. The letter was not specific — NGA budget information is classified — but said the commercial imaging industry is important both to national security and as an engine for economic growth.

DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo., operates three satellites capable of collecting imagery at resolutions of better than 1 meter, and has a fourth under construction that is scheduled to launch in 2014. GeoEye of Dulles, Va., operates two satellites in orbit and has a third under construction that is expected to launch in late 2013. Both companies say they depend on NGA for more than half their revenue.

Under its so-called two-plus-two strategy for optical imagery gathering via satellite, the U.S. government is procuring two highly capable satellites from Lockheed Martin while relying on privately owned spacecraft for less-demanding collection tasks.

“It is our understanding that the commercial sector’s performance is right on target,” the letter said. “The government gained immediate access to new, more capable assets resulting in significant data-to-day imagery collection, production, and services supporting the defense and intelligence communities.”



NGA Bracing for New Congressional Scrutiny of EnhancedView Funding