While the U.S. Space Force continues to back the tenets in a draft Alternative Acquisition System for the United States Space Force last May, 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.
“We’re still working with the executive branch to make sure that those things we officially submit have the approval of the Department of Defense, OMB [White House Office of Management and Budget], and others,” Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson told a C4ISRNET forum last week.
“Some of those elements we could, while we report to Congress, we have the capability to deploy on our own,” he said. “There are another handful that the Department of the Air Force and Space Force don’t own, that are under the authority of the Department of Defense. About half of those we’ve already worked with them to implement, and we’re working with the Department of Defense on a plan to implement the rest. A handful—about a third of them–require change to legislation. Those are the elements that we have to clear with the executive branch, present to Congress and work with Congress on, ‘Here are our proposed changes to the law,’ and have the conversation about whether they agree to make those changes.”
“So about a third of those we own, and we’ve implemented,” he said. “Another third are Department of Defense and are kind of mid-stream in getting those implemented, and the last require us to engage with Congress.”
The fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) called for the U.S. 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 U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond said last October that the 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 OMB 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.
Last May, the Air Force took back a draft of the report to Congress within a day of its submittal (Defense Daily, June 16, 2020). 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.”
Barnes has said that he is sensitive to concerns in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill that consolidating budget line items could decrease program oversight and transparency, “and as we would look at adding that additional flexibility, or budget line item consolidation, we would want to ensure that we did not diminish the transparency that exists and, frankly, find ways to increase that transparency.”
Section 807 of the fiscal 2021 NDAA calls on DoD to deliver to the congressional defense committees by May 15 this year a report on the application of the Adaptive Acquisition Framework to space systems.
In January last year, former DoD acquisition chief Ellen Lord issued DoD Instruction 5000.02 to implement the Adaptive Acquisition Framework to speed the fielding of military systems. Language in the fiscal 2021 NDAA says that the framework is “a very important step toward ensuring additional avenues for new entrants to the defense industrial base.”
Revamping acquisition to ensure the rapid fielding of space systems is “maybe the harshest fight there is and one of the most important fights there is,” former Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said last October. “You can’t build technology on a slow, lethargic acquisition system. We’ve got to move fast.”
She pointed to the 2018 National Defense Strategy’s positing of China and Russia as the most significant threats to the U.S. as reasons for accelerating the acquisition of space and other systems.