Space industry group pushing for change in security clearance policies

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NSSA says space programs are governed by a mix of outdated and emerging classification guidance that produces inconsistent policies.

WASHINGTON — The National Security Space Association, a group that represents U.S. defense and intelligence contractors, says outdated security clearance policies thwart the United States’ ability to outpace adversaries that seek to undermine U.S. space operations.

In a white paper Oct. 29, the NSSA calls for reforms in “space security policy, practices and governance structures.”

The paper says a mesh of organizations that currently oversee security clearances make it difficult, for example, for the Pentagon and the intelligence community to share information about space threats. The current system also prevents the military and intelligence agencies from exchanging information with companies that are developing space technologies that the government needs to protect satellites from physical and cyber attacks, says NSSA. 

The national security space program should have “multiple layers of access categories to protect classified information, while enabling, as appropriate and necessary, coordination, collaboration, and sharing of intelligence, technical, and operational information within the U.S. government, across U.S. space sectors, and with allies and partners,” the paper says.

Space programs today are governed by a mix of outdated and emerging classification guidance that produces inconsistent policies, the NSSA paper says. Access to the same piece of information might require different clearances from DoD or the intelligence community. “Indeed, unintended consequences from differing interpretations and application of policy and guidance impose costs and risks as well as hinder mission performance,” NSSA says. “They are creating unnecessary challenges to the efficient and effective conduct of the national security space program.”

Commercial space companies “often are precluded from competing for government business because they cannot obtain accesses or accreditation of facilities, or respond to classified requests for proposals,” says NSSA. “As a result, the U.S. government is denying itself access to new ideas, technology, capabilities and applications.”

The paper, which includes a list of proposed reforms, says it is “imperative to establish governance and align security policies and programs to enable, rather than impede, U.S. national security space missions.”