U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center Credit: Air Force

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department does not have a complete list of its space acquisition programs and cannot identify exactly how many people work on space acquisitions, says a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

These finding are problematic as the Pentagon seeks congressional approval to stand up a Space Force as a separate military branch, GAO says in a report released on Thursday. “Without complete and accurate data, DoD cannot assess gaps in the overall capabilities of the space acquisition workforce.”

Jon Ludwigson, GAO’s acting director for contracting and national security acquisitions delivered the report which was requested by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.

Congress in recent years has continued to show a keen interest in DoD’s space organizations and in the space acquisition workforce. The 2019 NDAA directed DoD to consider developing a dedicated workforce for space acquisitions. And one of the reasons lawmakers have advocated the establishment of a Space Force is that programs currently are dispersed and hard to track.

GAO suggests the Pentagon should have a better accounting of its space programs. “Collecting such data would also better position DoD to ensure that the appropriate space acquisition personnel are assigned to the new Space Development Agency and the United States Space Command.” And reliable data on the space acquisition workforce would help DoD efforts to organize a Space Force, says the report. “It will be essential to understand the size, mix and location of the space acquisition workforce.”

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Auditors found that DoD does not collect and maintain comprehensive data on its space acquisition workforce. “DoD does not have this information because, among other things, DoD has not clearly identified its space programs, and its workforce data systems are not configured to identify space acquisition personnel,” the report says.

GAO aggregated data from individual organizations and estimated that at least 8,000 military, civilian, contractor, and federally funded think tank personnel worked on space acquisitions in multiple locations across the United States at the end of 2017. “While this information represents only a snapshot in time, it provides insight into the extent of the space acquisition workforce,” says the report. The picture is not complete, however, since acquisition personnel working on National Reconnaissance Office space programs and those who spent less than 50 percent of their time working on space acquisitions were not included.

Identifying and routinely tracking space acquisition programs and the organizations and personnel that support those programs would “better position DoD to make decisions on which acquisition personnel will support or transition into the United States Space Command or the new Space Development Agency, since DoD has not clearly defined what acquisition functions may or may not be handled by these new organizations.”

The lack of data on space programs is an issue for lawmakers are they prepare to review the Pentagon’s budget request for fiscal year 2020. DoD does not maintain a complete list of its space acquisition programs, GAO notes. Officials from the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition and the service-level acquisition career managers told auditors that DoD does not maintain a list of the universe of space acquisition programs. And the budget documents that DoD submits to Congress specific to space programs — which could possibly serve as an alternative source of such information — identify programs that have large amounts of funding by name, but aggregate information for smaller programs without identifying them individually.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...