Congressional committees have long been waiting for a finalized version of a report on space acquisition alternatives to be submitted by the Department of the Air Force, and a senior department official said June 16 that he is hopeful it will soon make its way to Capitol Hill.
The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) directed the Air Force to submit a report on acquisition alternatives for space by March 31. While the “Alternative Acquisition System for the United States Space Force” report was submitted to Capitol Hill in mid-May, that report was pulled back within a day as a non-finalized version.
Shawn Barnes, who is performing the duties of assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, said Tuesday that the department is hopeful the final report will be sent over to Congress “in short order.”
“We’re just dotting a few I’s, crossing a couple of T’s, making sure that we’ve got everything properly aligned,” he said in a webinar hosted by the Mitchell Institute.
Two sources told Defense Daily the report has been in review by the Office of Management and Budget since it was pulled back from the Hill in May. As the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have either already completed or are about to begin their markups for the FY ’21 NDAA, it is unlikely any of the report’s findings will be included in either chamber’s bill. (Defense Daily, June 12) However, depending on when the report is finally issued, its findings could be incorporated into the final defense authorization bill.
The report included nine policy proposals that, if enacted, would streamline the acquisition of military space systems by restructuring budget line items, reviewing the way block upgrades are used to build satellites, lowering the decision-making level for certain program elements and minimizing reporting requirements among other changes (Defense Daily, May 29).
Barnes said Tuesday that while the report clearly addresses acquisition processes, “it actually goes well beyond acquisition … [to] requirements and resourcing, because we believe that all three of those are integrally tied to capability development.”
“The real focus is to try to drive decision-making down to the lowest practical level,” he noted. “It’s a combination of that, and managing by portfolio. And we want to do that in both the resources, as well as the requirements.”
The nascent Space Acquisition Council, formed in late 2019 and led by Air Force acquisition czar Will Roper, performed a series of reviews of various defense agency acquisition processes that unearthed “the best practices,” Barnes noted. They took notes from how many agencies performed their own business development, including the Rapid Capabilities Office, the Strategic Capabilities Office, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Missile Defense Agency, along with other non-DoD offices.
“We talked to industry leaders about some of our ideas to make sure that that we weren’t … gazing at our own navels, and I think that I think we got some very good feedback,” Barnes said.
The Space Acquisition Council will hold its next meeting June 29. The council recently sent out a survey to space industry partners to determine the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses. Barnes said Tuesday that according to the answers the council received about 50 percent of respondents indicated that they had either a moderate or worse than moderate cash flow impact.
“About half have adjusted their business strategies for the next couple of years,” he noted. “More than a third have had schedule impacts, over half have seen supply chain workforce impacts, [and] less than a third have seen supply chain material impacts.”
“It’s not a surprise that those things happened, but it’s certainly important for us to be able to understand,” Barnes continued.