U.S. Air Force Secretary Could Take on Expanded Space Duties

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WASHINGTON – The secretary of the U.S. Air Force would have a greater level of oversight over all Defense Department space programs, according to a draft memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work obtained by SpaceNews.

The proposed move is intended to “de-emphasize individual programmatic actions in favor of strategic portfolio decisions,” Work’s memo says, and allows the service secretary more leeway to advocate for space programs and budgets.

The Sept. 15 memo is addressed to Shaun Donovan, the director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. A Pentagon spokesperson, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, said Sept. 18 that Work’s memo is a draft and not official.

The proposed organizational changes, according to the memo, would come as the result of a 2014 Defense Department study of space assets known as the Space Strategic Portfolio Review and as part of a broader White House initiative to improve space protection efforts.

“The new focus on space as a warfighting mission and the drive for better and more thorough integration demands strengthened leadership through sharpened authorities and responsibilities,” the memo says.

In her job as Air Force secretary, Deborah Lee James also holds the title of executive agent for space. In that job, she is the focal point for coordinating all matters across the service’s space enterprise. The position will now be known as the “principal DoD space adviser,” the memo says, and will give James “oversight of all Departmental entities with space programmatic authorities,” in essence expanding the coordination department-wide.

President Barack Obama nominated James, an SAIC executive and former House Armed Services Committee staffer, in August 2013 to succeed Michael Donley as Air Force secretary.

In the expanded role outlined in Work’s memo, she would continue to oversee the department’s Defense Space Council, which includes leaders from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Work’s memo would expand the council to include the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Missile Defense Agency, and the Defense Information Systems Agency.

James has taken an active role in Air Force space programs since becoming secretary. This year she testified beside Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, at congressional hearings, gave a keynote address at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in April and accompanied Hyten during a press conference there. She also regularly fields questions from lawmakers and reporters about the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine and the certification of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.