Continuing resolutions and budget uncertainty are a perennial concern to the U.S. military, but the nascent Space Development Agency’s (SDA) future appears particularly tied to how quickly lawmakers can authorize and appropriate fiscal year 2020 defense funding.
The Defense Department must continue to wait for budget approval to fund the SDA, an agency that was stood up this year by Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin and intended to help quickly develop and field new space capabilities that have not previously been prioritized.
“There is largely agreement on both sides of the aisle that we really do need to reform our space architecture. … I think the general approach to creating a more robust, resilient space architecture is widely accepted,” Griffin said Dec. 3 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Launch: A Space Economy” event in Washington, D.C.
But as lawmakers continue to work to hash out defense authorization and appropriations bills before the current CR ends Dec. 20, “a Space Development Agency is one of – but by no means the only – casualty of our current situation,” Griffin said. “I don’t know when the CR is going to end. … We will cope as best we can.”
The agency’s future is also impacted by Congress’ ongoing inability to establish a new U.S. Space Force as fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act negotiations continue. The ultimate plan for the SDA was for it to move from under Griffin’s jurisdiction to the Space Force, once the latter was approved and established.
“In the end, I really don’t care who does it,” Griffin said. “I’m really uninterested in … under what organization we do our work, as long as the work gets done.”
But he could not speculate on its future plans so long as a defense authorization bill remains out of reach. “I don’t know what we’re doing short term, I have no idea about long term budgets,” he said Tuesday.
The Defense Department requested nearly $45 million in operations and maintenance costs for the SDA in fiscal year 2020, as well as $105 million for the nascent agency to build a next-generation space-based sensor layer architecture.
Lawmakers’ FY ’20 budget appropriations and authorizing marks have included differing amounts of support for the SDA. The House Appropriations Committee’s budget, passed by the House in May, included a stipulation that said no funds could be obligated to the SDA until 90 days after senior defense officials submit a report to Congress to include the proposed plan to establish the SDA, along with a description of the programs and projects that the SDA plans to work on over the next three years, along with expected funding requirements.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the FY ’20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed in June, included $55 million in research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funds for the SDA.