The fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), P.L. 116-92, established the U.S. Space Force on Dec. 20, 2019, but the law had some curious language in Section 957 that said that the new assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration would not become the Department of the Air Force service acquisition executive (SAE) for space systems and programs–the Space Force SAE–until Oct. 1, 2022.
In the last year of his administration, former President Donald Trump did not nominate an assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration.
“That [assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration] position will not become the space acquisition executive until 1 October, 2022,” acting Air Force Secretary John Roth told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel (HAC-D) during a May 7th hearing on the Air Force and Space Force fiscal 2022 budget plans. “That is part of the problem and perhaps one of the reasons why it wasn’t filled last year. We would actually suggest that perhaps we ought to propose some legislation to amend that a little bit to say that it [will] be filled…no later than 1 October, 2022 so that the person, once they’re up to speed, can perhaps start taking on some of the SAE kinds of responsibilities. But right now as the  Authorization Act directed, that position will not become the space acquisition executive until 1 October, 2022.”
Roth told HAC-D on May 7th that the assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration is a “key position,” but, despite the lack of a White House nomination,”we haven’t sat on our hands.”
“We have taken a look at that office and organized it in a way that whoever comes in…can hit the ground running,” he said.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the chairwoman of HAC-D, said during the hearing that she is “very concerned about the lack of progress with fixing these longstanding problems with space acquisition that are now in the Space Force.”
“For years, GAO and others have written reports about the challenges within space acquisition,” she said. “Our committee staff has book shelves of such reports.”
One such GAO report in January highlighted cost, schedule and technical challenges for GPS III, GPS III Follow-On, and the Next Generation Operational Control System.
While the Space Force continues to back the tenets in a year-old draft Alternative Acquisition System for the United States Space Force, the service is still working with the executive branch to gain its go ahead before submitting an acquisition plan to Congress to help speed the fielding of advanced space systems (Defense Daily, Apr. 23).
The fiscal 2020 NDAA called for the Air Force to deliver to Congress by March 31 last year a report on an Alternative Acquisition System for the United States Space Force to hasten the development and delivery of space systems.
While Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond said last October that the draft report was in the final stages of coordination, the Air Force now plans to incorporate lessons learned from the effort in the application of DoD’s 2020 Adaptive Acquisition Framework to space systems–an application called for in the fiscal 2021 NDAA (Defense Daily, Jan. 27).
After more than six months in “interagency” coordination limbo, including with Office of Management and Budget officials under the former Trump administration, the effort to get the Alternative Acquisition Systems for the United States Space Force through the executive wickets is no more.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration Shawn Barnes has said that the Air Force is now “focused on working on the Adaptive Acquisition Framework and ensuring that the kinds of priorities” in the draft Alternative Acquisition System for the United States Space Force feed into the Adaptive Acquisition Framework.
Yet, the fiscal 2020 NDAA does not allow the implementation of an Adaptive Acquisition Framework for space without a Space Force SAE.
In May last year, the Air Force took back the draft Alternative Acquisition System for the United States Space Force report to Congress within a day of its submittal. That draft report said that consolidating Budget Line Items to manage Space Force “space programs at portfolio levels is the most important recommendation in this report”–a recommendation that could meet with stiff opposition from members of Congress who want strong oversight of individual military space programs.
Nevertheless, Barnes has said that “we certainly do believe that being able to have some greater flexibility in terms of funding is going to be important, and to the extent that some of that budget line item consolidation will be important to that, we’ll continue to look at that as an important step.”