— The U.S. Air Force too often has used its authority as overseer of the
military’s space assets to play budgetary “games,” according to the Pentagon’s outgoing acquisition chief. Most recently, John Young said, the service slowed the department’s 2010 budget process by submitting a spending plan that “underfunded space programs.”
The Air Force “has not performed well” as the Defense Department’s manager of major space acquisition programs, Young told a group of reporters Oct. 30 at the Pentagon. During the nearly two-hour session, the outgoing acquisition chief said he has agreed to stay on until at least Jan. 21, the day after the new president will be sworn in. He declined to say if he would stay longer if asked by the next commander in chief.
By law, the under secretary of the Air Force is the military’s executive agent for space. But Young, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the decision to hand that authority to the service was a mistake.
“I would have never” have made the Air Force’s No. 2 civilian the military’s point person for all things space,” he said. “The Air Force under secretary is the Air Force under secretary.”
That means, when making a funding or programmatic decision that will affect all the services, “that person is put in a bad spot.”
Young said he favors creation of a “purple,” or joint, office within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to manage the military’s orbital assets and make related spending and programmatic decisions.
In the meantime, he said, “There are too many games being played” by service officials within the space portion of the Pentagon’s annual budget process. Air Force officials sometimes have submitted annual spending plans that omit needed funding from some space program coffers, Young said. Service officials then have lobbied the Office of the Secretary of Defense for additional funding.
“In fact, that was one thing that made it hard to close” the 2010 spending plan Pentagon leaders will hand to the next administration in a few weeks, Young said.
Young said all the services have underfunded programs, offered “poorly built budgets” and underestimated requirements costs as preludes to seeking a cash infusion by OSD-provided funds. He called such tactics “a cancer.”
Douglas Macgregor, a retired U.S. Army colonel who now writes on military reform for the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, said the Defense Department should eliminate single-service acquisition headquarters and commands in favor of a joint clearinghouse.
“The British military has already done it,” Macgregor said. “Nobody else in the modern industrialized world is willing to waste the money we do on the unending single-service entities we maintain.”
And Gordon Adams, who ran defense budgeting at the Office of Management and Budget during the
administration, said, “Young’s comments confirm what everyone outside the Pentagon already knew: This administration has fundamentally undermined the program and budget planning system at the Pentagon.
“Today, the services are out of control in their bid for more resources,” said Adams, now a professor at
Engaged in Space
Months ago, Young said, he instructed his staff within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to take a more active role in the crafting of the 2010 defense budget, also called the program objective memorandum (POM). He said he found himself heavily engaged in matters related to space programs, including the 2010 POM build.
One of those orbital programs was the Air Force-run Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) effort, which was meant to improve, by leaps and bounds, secure communications for the entire military.
Young said, “the  Air Force budget underfunded T-Sat.”
Such moves by that service, along with attacks on the program over the years by camps within the defense community, led Pentagon officials to delay a contract award until the next administration takes over.
“We could have awarded a contract and then worked through” a number of technical issues, but he decided “we could not execute it” at this time, Young said.
Some defense observers, like Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, have said there is not ample support within the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill to keep the T-Sat program alive much longer.
But Young was adamant that many across all the services strongly support this military requirement.
The next administration will have to examine possible changes to T-Sat, such as whether to include laser communications, he said.