Profile: U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas)

Ranking Member, House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee

S ome political observers might assume a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives this November would bring significant changes for the U.S. Defense Department’s space and missile defense programs. But that is not necessarily so, says Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Texas), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

Reyes says he works closely with Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), the subcommittee’s chairman, and that any changes resulting from a shift in the balance of power would be, “in the overall scheme of things, very small.”

Acquisition continues to be one of the main issues for the strategic forces subcommittee, which oversees military space and missile defense . Reyes says the military has used space effectively to transform the way it fights wars in recent years but still has room for improvement when it comes to buying satellites.

Reyes and Everett also have pressed for closer cooperation between the Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). They sent a letter to the Pentagon last year expressing concern that the decision to split the position of NRO director and Air Force undersecretary could hamper such cooperation .

Reyes spoke June 22 with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer.

What’s your take on the status of military space acquisition?

It needs a lot of improvement.

Certainly one of the concerns I have, and I think Chairman Everett shares, is the ability to have our own military individuals who can go toe to toe with the contractors.

Another issue is requirements growth. Everyone wants to hang stuff on there. What starts out as a frame for a Volkswagen turns into a Volkswagen on steroids that looks like a bus.

That drives up the cost and makes already-complex systems that much more difficult to produce.

Will Air Force Undersecretary Ronald Sega’s back-to-basics approach help?

I believe so. I think it goes a long way toward addressing some of those concerns.

How would you assess efforts to integrate classified and unclassified space activities ?

One of the problems in this area is that there has been some concern from Air Force officers that an assignment at the NRO may not be a good move in terms of your career.

You’re gaining valuable experience at the NRO, but at the same time you are also dealing in an area that, because of the highly classified nature of the work, what you’ve done is not generally known. There is some concern that it doesn’t give you the promotion potential that it should.

Will the June 7 Air Force-NRO cooperative accord, which includes the assignment of a two-star Air Force general to oversee service personnel at the NRO, help in this regard?

I think it sends a very clear message that these are positions that the organizations consider very important, and it’s a good-faith effort on their part to better address the movement of Air Force personnel between them.

Does the accord allay the concerns you expressed following the decision to split the NRO director and Air Force undersecretary positions?

The jury is still out. It’s one thing to formulate a plan, and another thing to see it become viable. It’s one that we’re watching very closely.

The Space Radar surveillance and imaging system is supposed to be a joint Air Force-NRO program. How is that going, in your view?

The NRO and the Air Force are supposed to jointly fund the Space Radar effort, but the NRO has yet to request money for the work. The commitment may not be there.

I think the NRO expected their share of the money to materialize from elsewhere, especially when we’re dealing in today’s world with these supplementals where we can’t track or hold people accountable, and it’s huge money.

Can you do anything to compel the NRO to come up with its share of the money?

Sure. We have our ways. That’s our role in oversight. They have to come to us for their funding.

Is the Air Force devoting sufficient funding to Operationally Responsive Space efforts?

Our bill added $20 million for that effort to the Air Force’s budget request for 2007. The Air Force has its priorities like buying planes and the other basics they’re responsible for. That’s where we stepped in with the oversight capacity and made those adjustments. That’s our role. We don’t make a lot of friends that way, but our role is to make sure that everything is moving so that there isn’t one section benefiting over the other.

Are you concerned that proposed personnel cuts across the Air Force would adversely affect Air Force Space Command?

Sure. It’s an issue of resources and priorities for the Air Force. The Air Force will try and find ways to do their core mission.

This is a classic example — you have money in a pot designated for personnel and benefits, a huge amount of money in there. The temptation is to say, “We will cut back on personnel and we will use that money and pump it into buying aircraft or equipment.” It’s not extra equipment — it’s essential that they have the equipment to carry out their core missions.

The issue is do you lose experience? Do you lose expertise? In taking it out of hide like that, are you penny wise and pound foolish? Do you address a need for today, but buy yourself bigger problems for the future because you have let these positions go unfilled?

If the Democrats were to retake the House, would you expect much of a direction change on military space or missile defense?

No. We don’t agree on everything, but we’ve been pretty bipartisan. I’m fortunate to have a chairman like Terry Everett. He understands the process where we’re going to have disagreements. He allows us to disagree, but we have never let those disagreements get in the way on what’s best for the country.

So space-based weapons wouldn’t necessarily be taken off the table if the Democrats take over?

No. I’ll tell you this: We’ve had a number of hearings on the matter, and the fact that Chairman Everett and I sit on the intel committee gives us a big advantage.

This is an emerging issue in terms of the potential threat to our space assets. We have members that are concerned that by addressing the issue, we drive it, but we have had meetings where everyone has been able to get the information about where we are versus the threats to our capabilities in space. And I think that our members are reasonable.

There might be some adjustments, but those would be, in the overall scheme of things, very small adjustments where we differ with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle. The expectation that I have is that we’d look and evaluate the threat to our dominance in space and we’d do what’s necessary.

I think that some of the differences that members have expressed have been expressed without fully understanding or appreciating because of a lack of information that hadn’t been available, that we’re trying to make available or that we have made available so that there’s an understanding.