Why Not a Space Reinvestment Act?

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The U.S. government has provided billions of dollars to well-intentioned investments in local and state governments over the past year or so. What it did not invest in, but perhaps should have, was any number of national security space critical initiatives that have been recognized but not funded for the past 20 years. Some potential areas for investment would include:

  • Space suppliers are under enormous economic pressure in today’s environment. Many have moved away from the business of space, and this has created a situation in which there are a limited number of potential sources for critical items in the acquisition of satellite and launch systems. A reinvestment strategy for increasing the supplier base would have a long-term positive impact on our ability to provide these capabilities to our space systems prime contractors. Without some investment by the government, we may face the prospect of having to buy these items from potential adversaries, or lose the ability to buy them at all. The Air Force has created a Space Supplier Council that has generated worthwhile ideas on how to address some of these problems, but most of the potential solutions involve funding that is currently not available through traditional means, such as the Department of Defense (DoD) budget process.
  • The space industrial base has been shrinking over the past 20 years. Both at the prime contractor and sub-contractor level, we have seen a substantial reduction in the number of potential competitors for source selections for space systems. Reinvestment funding could be applied for maximum bang for the buck.
  • The critical skills for developing and producing space systems have been shrinking for the past 20 years as well. Engineering and science programs at U.S. universities are not producing replacements for the aging professional space acquisition work force, both within the government and industry. A major stimulus for these hard sciences would benefit the country many times over the costs.
  • Sustainment programs for major space systems have become increasingly costly to the customers that use the space systems currently being fielded, as well as those that have been in operation for the last 20 to 30 years (for example, the Defense Support Program, GPS, Milstar and the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program). The costs associated with reducing operations and maintenance life-cycle costs were usually jettisoned when program development costs began to spiral up. Cost overruns meant that work statements with logistics support requirements were carved up for the greater good of ensuring that the program could eventually be fielded. The presumption was that life-cycle costs were largely irrelevant if the system was never fielded.

These are but four areas that could have benefited from an infusion of dollars specifically targeted at long-term cost savings, critical skills development and retention and industrial base concerns. These areas have always suffered from the perspective that while they may be important, they were not affordable. The use of federal funds could have provided some relief in these critical national security areas, and yet it appears there was little to no effort made to do so.

The funding for these critical areas could have had long-term positive impact on a vital national security need, which is, after all, a principal reason for the existence of a federal government. The return on investment would have been the saving of tens of thousands of jobs — good-paying, skilled jobs that would have had a positive impact on the overall economy. The money could have been targeted at areas within the country that needed economic assistance. It could have funded many programs in business, science and engineering at many universities and schools that are in desperate need of assistance.

With the government, it often seems as though the right hand is not connected to the left — in this case, the DoD’s not identifying the need for an influx of targeted funds that would have had the dual benefit of creating and retaining jobs in the aerospace sector of the economy as well as supporting the need for additional science and engineering programs within high schools and colleges. The matter of the industrial base has always been a bone of contention between the political parties, with the left advocating large initiatives and the right focusing on the market as the driver for the success of companies.

A peripheral benefit is that the DoD has programs in place to distribute these monies to worthy recipients. The Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) program and the Industrial Modernization Incentives Program both had charters to identify and fund projects that could provide a synergistic impact upon the industrial base. Any number of other DoD organizations could rapidly take dollars and find great uses to help with the creation of high-tech jobs and next-generation technology. Many of the products of this funding would have commercial applications as well as uses that could benefit any number of other civilian agencies.

The beauty of investing stimulus money is that there would be a joint advocacy for this approach. The left would like the involvement in national industrial policy; the right would like the fact that the industries being supported were critical to protecting the country.

There is no reason that any additional funding being contemplated as an economic stimulus should not be utilized, at least in part, in the development of space-related industry and education. The jobs created would provide a return on investment for decades to come, and there would certainly be support for a stimulus of this nature. While the focus of this recommendation is on military space, the benefits that would accrue would be to both military and civilian space — providing a much-needed boost to NASA as well.

 

James Gill is employed at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles. The views represented in this article are solely his own and do not reflect those of the Air Force.