White House Objects to Imagery Provision in Bill

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The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama objected to a provision in a Senate defense bill that would place restrictions on the kinds of commercial satellite imagery the Pentagon could purchase in the future, according to a Sept. 21 White House statement.

The Senate version of the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, drafted in May, includes a provision barring the Pentagon from entering into new imagery purchase contracts after 2010 unless the satellites in question have 1.5-meter telescopes.  The bill must still be passed by the full Senate and reconciled with the House version, which does not include a similar provision.

“Since the commercial satellite industry does not currently build 1.5-meter satellites, this provision would require considerable additional government investment, and is not required to meet defense or intelligence requirements,” said a statement of administration policy posted on the White House’s website. “Further, by stipulating a predetermined commercial solution, this provision could negatively impact the commercial data providers, limit innovation in commercial technology, and increase the risks on future government contracts for commercial data services.”

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in August awarded contracts worth as much as $7.3 billion over 10 years to the two primary U.S. commercial imagery providers, DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo., and GeoEye of Dulles, Va. GeoEye’s contract will help finance construction of a new 1.1-meter-aperture satellite slated for launch in 2012.

Both contracts feature a one-year base period with nine one-year options. It is unclear whether the bill language would permit NGA to help finance additional commercial satellites with apertures narrower than 1.5 meters.