White House to realign responsibilities for space policy oversight

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The White House said the National Security Council from now on will issue “national security memorandums” to replace the former administration’s space policy directives.

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is giving the White House National Security Council oversight responsibilities for space policy, giving credence to speculation that the National Space Council will be discontinued. 

The White House in a Feb. 4 memo said the National Security Council from now on will issue “national security memorandums” to replace the former administration’s space policy directives as “instruments for communicating presidential decisions about national security policies of the United States.”

Under the Trump administration, an interagency National Space Council coordinated policies across commercial, civil and military space and issued space policy directives.

The memo does not mention the National Space Council. The National Security Council — chaired by the president and attended by the vice president and cabinet officials — and would assert control over national security space policy. The director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy — now a cabinet-level position — will be part of the National Security Council, according to the memo, which suggests that OSTP would coordinate civil and commercial space policy.

A White House spokesperson did to respond to questions from SpaceNews on the administration’s position on the National Space Council. 

The National Space Council met eight times during the Trump administration. It was praised by the space industry and government leaders for helping coordinate policies across agencies and for establishing a “users advisory group” of private sector executives. In a January 28 letter to White House chief of staff Ron Klain, a group of 17 industry groups asked for the administration to keep the National Space Council and its users advisory group.

One of the groups that recommended keeping the National Space Council is the Aerospace Industries Association. AIA vice president of space systems Mike French noted that Congress already appropriated funds for the National Space Council for this fiscal year and the Biden administration would be able to use those funds if it wanted to continue the council. 

French pointed out that the Biden administration sent strong signals this week affirming support for the U.S. Space Force and NASA’s Artemis program, “both of which highlight how space has become a White House-level issue with implications for scientific discovery, the economy and national security,” French said in a statement to SpaceNews.

On why AIA and other industry groups favor keeping the National Space Council, French said: “Space has cross-sector impact which underscores the value of a platform where the civil and national security space communities can continue to collaborate at a senior level on whole-of-government issues.”

Space policy consultant James Muncy said that by not mentioning the Space Council and supplanting space policy directives, the memo from the National Security Council “indicates that the Space Council will not be part of the national security policy process … if it exists at all.”

The memo implies that “at least for the NSC, space will be relegated to one or more interagency policy committees,” Muncy added.

Industry sources said the discontinuation of the space council could be a setback for policymakers and stakeholders trying to solve problems across agency and issue boundaries. They expressed concern that the implementation of space policies would be slowed down under the National Security Council that on a daily basis is dealing with multiple crises.