Profile: Ed Morris

Director, Office of Space Commercialization

A fter Keith Calhoun-Senghor resigned as director of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Space Commercialization in 1999, the office, which had been active in a number of space policy areas, languished. Within a few years, it was stripped down to one employee who was borrowed from another office at commerce and worked exclusively on Global Positioning System (GPS) issues.

Then in 2005 — with a push from Congress — the office’s role at the Commerce Department changed and it was moved from the Technology Administration to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At the beginning of this year, Ed Morris took the reins as the office’s first politically appointed director in five years.

Morris, who spent 14 years working in various capacities for Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., has plans to jump start the agency out of its GPS-focused slump. Armed with a staff of four and a $600,000-a-year budget, he plans to broaden its reach into some of the areas it formerly tackled, such as remote sensing and space transportation. Morris sat down recently with Space News staff writer Missy Frederick to discuss his goals for the office.

How do you plan to overcome the fact that this office has lost prominence over the years? What steps will you take to increase its visibility?

The first step was the appointment of a director by the administration — they have not had a political appointee since the mid ‘ 90s.

We’ve also revitalized the office and expanded its activities through the addition of staff and other resources to better meet the original charter of the office. During the period between politically appointed directors, we were focusing almost exclusively on GPS issues.

We plan to take advantage of public events, whether it’s interviews, speeches, testimony in front of Congress or partnerships with other organizations. Our goal is to be very visible through the media and through activities, but also within other agencies — having a seat at the table.

In what ways are you expanding the office’s role?

We’ve been involved with GPS and positioning, navigation and timing activities for quite some time. But there are four national space policies, and only one is related to GPS; there is also remote sensing, space exploration and space transportation.

I see our responsibility as representing C ommerce’s interest in implementing U.S. industry’s interest in these policies.

Since your office is now under the jurisdiction of the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), does that increase your focus on remote sensing?

I think commercial remote sensing is a key area, probably the biggest growth area for the office. I think being in NOAA gives us a wonderful opportunity because NOAA has a lot of equities and interests there.

One area where commercial remote sensing can play a larger role is in NOAA’s Global Earth Observation System of Systems initiative. We see that as a great opportunity for the industry. In Landsat, we will represent the U.S. commercial space folks to see where they could play a role there.

I think from a policy perspective, one area we can help is in the whole idea of civil agency coordination for what their requirements would be for commercial remote sensing. From my perspective, commerce, interior and NGA need to get together to make sure civil agencies are getting the commercial requirements that they need, and that the industry has the opportunity to provide those services. There are some good opportunities with respect to the civil agencies, for additional commercial work, including border patrol requirements and work with the Coast Guard. We plan to hold an event Oct. 19 with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to bring together commercial providers and the civil government folks to determine the sort of things they need.

How do you plan to help enhance the role of industry
in the exploration program?

We can expand the role beyond exploration; there are roles not just for aerospace companies, but for non-traditional companies and for entrepreneurs. For example, I’m envisioning how a company like Bechtel might be involved in building structures on the M oon, or pharmaceutical companies taking an interest in zero-gravity experiments, those kind of activities.

What role would your office play in the realm of space transportation?

We have a cooperative arrangement with the Federal Aviation Administration, and we’ve talked about working together on some activities. What we are really interested in is advocating NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program as a pathfinder for how the government should procure commercial space services. COTS is a very important program as a model acquisition strategy that is not the normal way of contracting.

What new focuses do you have in the area of positioning and navigation, now that the advent of Galileo and GPS 3 are on the horizon?

Right now, we’re focusing on free trade issues. We are the U.S. government representative for a working group on issues related to trade and civil applications for the U.S.-Galileo agreement. One of the big areas we will focus on with the Europeans is trying to establish non-discriminatory business practices. This would mean allowing U.S. industry to have all the technical data and licensing requirements necessary for access to Galileo. Our first meeting for this is in October.

For GPS 3, we recently completed a productivity study about the business impact of the second civil signal available on GPS, which was launched in the fall. We determined that it will produce $5 billion over the next 30 years in terms of productivity. We’ve also held events bringing people in the GPS industry together, such as one we sponsored in January with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and hope to have a number of these in the future.

How do you plan to avoid conflict and overlap with other agencies that reach into the realm of space, whether it be the Federal Aviation Administration’s space commercialization office, or the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration?

There’s plenty of work to go around. Our role is one of broad advocacy and of working policies. Those policies are really my guidance and directive. Some of the other organizations tend to work within the current framework to help the industry on a case-by-case basis, and that’s very valuable and necessary. Our office would work with them to improve the overall processes, not so much helping a particular company on a particular issue. We believe with the resources we have, with our relationship with the Chamber, we can do broader activities in areas that haven’t been reached before.

You’ve resisted the Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS) trade association’s attempts to broaden your role to include advocacy for airborne remote sensing companies. How do you plan to deal with the airborne companies?

At this time we’re going to be focused almost exclusively on space, but one of the things we’ve realized is that for something like remote sensing, the platform is not necessarily the only issue. You have to get the data, and where space can work in conjunction with airborne imagery, we think space can add vital value and additional capabilities. We’re not going to work in a vacuum, but space is the area we’d like to focus on over the near-term until we get some experience under our belt and have some successes.

From your conversations with industry, what do you think is their
No. 1 concern, and what would they
like to see from the office?

They want an advocate not just externally but within the agencies. A common theme we’ve heard is that they don’t want to compete with the government, and that the government needs to look at things to figure out what the government should do, and what they can rely on industry to do.