Space Force proposes ‘alternative acquisition system’ with less red tape

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Barrett: “This report outlines an Alternative Acquisition System that will optimize the U.S. Space Force with a bold set of new acquisition authorities and policies."

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force on May 20 delivered a report to congressional committees asking for changes in the rules that currently are in place for buying new weapon systems.

Congress in the legislation that established the U.S. Space Force directed Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett to propose an “alternative acquisition system” for the new service. The report was written by Barrett, the top civilian leader for the Air Force and the Space Force, with input from the chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force Gen. John Raymond.

According to multiple sources, the Office of the Secretary of Defense ordered several revisions to the report before it was sent to Congress. An early draft included a recommendation to create a separate acquisition executive for space under the Department of the Air Force. The final version, a copy of which was obtained by SpaceNews, does not propose a separate acquisition executive for space.

“This report outlines an Alternative Acquisition System that will optimize the U.S. Space Force with a bold set of new acquisition authorities and policies,” Barrett wrote in the final report.

The report argues that many of the Pentagon’s rules for procurement programs create unnecessary burdens and squelch innovation. The current systems “produces systems that take too long to develop and deploy, cost more than expected, and yield exquisite point solutions to fulfill stable requirements for a closed architecture.”

The United States has to modernize fast to keep up with adversaries, Barrett says in the report. “Space threats demand a shift to a system that more broadly delivers agile solutions.”

Recommended changes

The report proposes nine specific actions. The first three would require Congress to revise existing legislation. The next six can be implemented by DoD or the Air Force without congressional action.

Delegate oversight — The Space Force is asking for a change in the legal definition of a major defense program so approvals can be delegated to lower level officials. This would reduce red tape and paperwork.

Flexibility in budgeting — When the Space Force buys a new constellation of satellites, it has to fund the entire system upfront which creates budget crunches, the report says. A better way would be to spread the funding across multiple years as satellites are build.

Change the definition of “new start” — When Congress doesn’t pass the annual budget on time, the government is funded by temporary “continuing resolutions” and during that time no new programs can be started. In the space business “months-long delays can damage execution,” says the report. The Space Force want the ability to move ahead with urgent programs in the event of CR.

Fewer budget line items — The Space Force wants to consolidate budget line items into “portfolios.” This is identified as “the most important recommendation in this report.” For example, hundreds of separate budget lines would be organized under mission areas like missile warning, communications and navigation, offensive space control, defensive space control and launch. This would make it easier to reallocate funding without time-consuming reprogramming actions.

Simplify Pentagon reviews — The Space Force is asking for DoD to ease the requirement that each program change has to be “validated” by a senior level panel. Major changes should be reviewed but not every specific detail.

Reduce reporting requirements — The traditional “milestone reviews” that DoD programs have to go through slow space programs down and don’t take into account that space systems make design choices much earlier than other programs. Later decision points, like Milestone C reviews, often provide little design change but can result in gaps between contracts and added cost to the government, says the report

Change how “end items” are defined — To encourage “open architectures,” the Space Force wants to use commercial items that can be integrated into government satellites and also wants to put government payloads on commercial satellite buses. Under current rules, commercial items are not treated as commodities so there’s more red tape involved in the integration.

Separate Space Force topline budget — This recommendation already was implemented by the Department of the Air Force which created a separate budget for the Space Force. The secretary of the Air Force still has the authority to move resources from one service to the other.

Create separate head of contracting — The Space Force should have its own head of contracting with authority to “develop supplemental space acquisition guidance and deviate from the [Defense Federal Regulations] DFARS as necessary,” says the report.

Earlier draft of the report

An earlier version of the report recommended that in addition to a separate head of contracting, there should be a Senior Procurement Executive for the Space Force under the Department of the Air Force.

This was in response to language in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that directed the secretary of the Air Force to establish a separate Senior Acquisition Executive for space as an equal to the current SAE for the Air Force.

But that version of the report actually argued that a separate SAE for space, as Congress proposed, is not a good idea.

Dual acquisition executives for air and space under the Department of the Air Force “creates the potential for increased administrative burden,” the draft said.

“This dual staffing and required approvals by both executives would slow—not speed—execution. Each senior civilian leader would have the opportunity to disagree with every program document or decision that requires SPE approval, eliminating any efficiency generated by creating a separate SAE for space.”