Profile: U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.)

Chairman, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

R ep. Peter Hoekstra recalls the time when, as the new chairman of the House intelligence committee, he met with industry officials to discuss the status of the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA), the spy satellite effort that had been having problems.

The industry officials, he says, came to the meeting with “happy faces” and assurances that the program, managed by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) with Boeing serving as prime contractor, was now going well. Not long afterwards, however, Hoekstra was informed by his staff that FIA had again run into technical difficulties that were causing its cost to grow and its schedule to slip.

“It’s like ‘who a! Wait a minute,’” Hoekstra says . “I just met with these people. And it was all smiley faces. You can’t go from all smiley faces to this situation in this short a time without them having known about these kinds of issues while I was there.”

Concerned that FIA was draining resources from other critical intelligence programs, Hoekstra called for an independent review that ultimately led to the restructuring of Boeing’s contract.

Hoekstra, who supported the decision earlier this year to separate the job of NRO director from that of Air Force undersecretary, spoke recently with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer.

Your staff has talked publicly about the FIA contract restructuring being only a short-term solution. Can you elaborate?

Based on the report we received, and other efforts that [U.S. Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, deputy director for national intelligence] had, he came back and gave us a group of decisions that I think will get us through the next 12 to 18 months, but don’t get us through the next five to 10 years.

This initial response is better than what we had out of the community before, but is still not what I would expect or want, in terms of being a plan to meet our needs for the next five to 10 years.

I can’t go back and monitor Mike on a daily or weekly basis, but he knows that what he submitted to us as a strategic plan is only part of the answer, that he has got to give us a broader, more far-reaching plan.

Were there things that the NRO or Boeing should have done differently on the program?

Yes. They should have been hitting their targets.

I think the NRO has to put in place a system of managing vendors for major contracts for major acquisition programs — some kind of an audit function.

Will surprises happen? Yes, I recognize that. But they shouldn’t happen with the regularity that was happening on FIA and is happening on some other programs.

You have to put in place a process that gives you some degree of confidence that what is being promised to you is actually going to be achieved. It wasn’t happening with FIA, and there are some other programs that we have concerns about.

Is there anything else the NRO needs to do differently ?

I think we’re going to have to look at how they conduct competitions and award contracts. The whole awarding of the FIA contract may have been a bad process.

Some people were surprised where that contract went. I think some people believe that they can go in and write a great proposal, and a great proposal to them is the proposal that wins — not what’s achievable or doable within the parameters of the bid. Their approach is “let’s listen to what people are saying that they want. Let’s write a proposal that gives them exactly what they want, and then sometime else figure out if it’s achievable and doable.”

The Aerospace Corp., the Pentagon’s federally funded research and development center for space, is supposed to guard against things like that. Where were they in all this?

I don’t know about specifics, but there is shared responsibility. The pattern of missed deadlines, missed schedules, is too long to simply say this is just the prime’s problem.

You might say that the first time, but after a period where its clear that it’s a systemic problem, where the prime is having problems establishing and meeting milestones, and once you determine that, you need additional oversight to manage to a plan, and that didn’t happen. I think there is a shared responsibility for what was going on with FIA.

Would raising the staffing limits on federally funded research and development centers help?

I think as a committee we want to take a look at things like the acquisition process and the industrial base. I have not reached a conclusion that says “here’s where there is a key issue and we’ve got to fix that.” We will take a look at a number of these issues over the next 12-18 months and have the community work with us to try to determine a more effective acquisition policy.

Are the FIA problems more the exception than the rule at the NRO?

I wouldn’t say it’s the rule, but it’s not the exception either. We’re buying extremely complicated equipment that is intended to work in the harshest environment you can conceive of, doing leading-edge stuff. So it’s tough. Like I said, I don’t expect this stuff to work perfectly, but I expect us to identify and manage risk better.

Should there be firewalls that effectively force the NRO to use its own funds to cover cost growth on one of its satellite programs?

The most appropriate thing we can do is establish the budget that we need. If we think we need more budget resources for intel, it’s our job to go out and get it.

I don’t have a problem with firewalls. I’d be a little nervous about taking money out of human intelligence and putting it into space.

The numbers are so big on space — if you have a small problem on a satellite program and try to pay for it out of an area like human intelligence, that fix for the imagery piece might be a relatively big chunk from human intelligence.

Is closer integration of black and white military-space activities the proper direction for the nation?

I think that the black and the white world might be a little bit different. I haven’t personally taken a real hard look at this, but I know that there are concerns about mixing black and white, and that we ought to keep them separate. And that mixing the two is not necessarily the best idea.

Does the intelligence community have the right mix of space and other collection capabilities?

No. I think we have the right amount of space, though we could probably use a little bit more. But we don’t have the right amount of human intelligence. We have a rich investment in space and imagery, and we need to match that now with investment in human intelligence. It doesn’t mean a divestment in space; it just means a bigger investment in human intelligence.

Does the overall intel budget need to go up?

It has been, and probably needs to go up further. People want a great intel community that serves us better than it did on 9/11 or before the war with Iraq, and it’s not going to get there just by moving boxes around on a chart.