WASHINGTON — Both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee are looking at spy satellites as an area to save money as budget cuts loom.
“I urge the intelligence community to remain open-minded about alternative satellite architectures that could potentially meet current requirements at a much lower cost to the taxpayers,” said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), at a Feb. 10 hearing that covered worldwide threats.
In April 2009, Dennis Blair, then director of national intelligence, announced the federal government’s plans to develop and build new spy satellites, while at the same time buying more imagery from the commercial sector to address immediate needs.
Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, criticized the plans of President Barack Obama’s administration, saying they were high-risk and “by far the most expensive” option.
The new effort comes after a program led by Boeing was canceled in 2005 due to cost and schedule overruns.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I’m studying my options carefully and so should you,” Rogers told witnesses at the hearing, who included CIA Director Leon Panetta, National Intelligence Director James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The committee’s ranking Democratic member, C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-Md.), said he wondered whether satellite launches could be made less expensive.
“The U.S. is spending more per rocket launch and battling more delays than anywhere else,” Ruppersberger said. “That is because the United States has committed to a two-company alliance to handle all launches, despite the fact that other U.S. companies are showing promise.”
Ruppersberger was referring to the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Formed in 2006, the venture was challenged on antitrust grounds but received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission.
“We must get costs under control and consider other approaches that satisfy the needs of the intelligence community, as well of the warfighter, without busting our bottom line,” Ruppersberger said.
Both Rogers and Ruppersberger called for greater efficiencies within the intelligence budget. At roughly $80 billion, the intelligence budget is more than twice what it was on Sept. 11, 2001.
In July, The Washington Post described the growth of the government’s top-secret world. For example, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has grown from 7,500 employees in 2002 to 16,500 today.
Clapper, who ran the DIA in the early 1990s, said that given the funding that has been provided to the intelligence community for the last 10 years, it is appropriate the pendulum is swinging back.
“We, I think, all understand that we’re going to be in for some belt-tightening,” he said.
To that end, Clapper said he reviewed the size and structure of his staff.
“Based on this efficiencies review, the Office of the [Director of National Intelligence] is being reduced in size and budget,” Clapper said.
Ruppersberger said an “across-the-board” reduction in intelligence funding would be a bad idea.
“We must review each program on its own merits,” he said. “We must identify what is working and get rid of what is not, including redundant programs that cost us too much money.”
Rogers said he wanted to avoid the mistakes of the 1990s, “when we cut too deep” into intelligence funding.