Observations about a Space News article on the Pentagon FY17 space budget

In the February 15, 2016 issue of Space News magazine, Michael Tierney from FiscalTrack, “a comprehensive data analytics service for Defense, NASA and Homeland Security budgets” wrote a piece he entitled, “Decoding the Pentagon’s holistic space budget approach”.  As I read the article, I had several thoughts and observations cross my mind, which I will share with you. (DISCLAIMER: I am not bashing FiscalTrak, they do some great work for the private sector, this is just thoughts on the article itself)

First, this article didn’t “decode” anything. Most space professionals who read Space News typically have some connectivity into the DoD/NASA space budgeting process. Those who don’t, space advocates and groups of space advocates, while not knowing the inside and out of the process, know enough that when using a term like “decode” usually it would include some new information that would give more inside details as to what is going on and why. This article didn’t provide that.

Instead of reading like an analysis, it read more like a positive, supportive, summary talking point for the Administration’s DoD space plan (focusing on the Air Force as the Principal DoD Space Advisor, formerly the Executive Agent for Space). It provided some good background (albeit at 200, 000 foot level-without that detail and analysis/why info included) on some of the changes made in the last few years, such as the creation of the Principal DoD Space Advisor role from the DoD Executive Agent for Space (the Secretary of the Air Force holds this position), the expansion of the Defense Space Council to include a few new agency leads (he didn’t mention that the PDSA Chairs this council), and the annually held Strategic Portfolio Review-Space (wrongly named in his article as the Strategic Posture Review-there was a Space Posture Review in conjunction with the QDR back in 2009-10, but now its something different and has a new title). He mentioned the desire to create a Major Force Program (MFP) for Space which is a big deal when and if it happens but the current FY17 budget doesn’t create an executable MFP, at least none yet that I have seen or heard about.

One thing that he stated that I would have loved to have agreed with but I don’t because it isn’t true, is when, speaking of the MFP, he stated proudly, “These changes bring us one step closer to the recommendations of the…Space Commission…published over 15 years ago.” This is not true. MFP is just one thing that report said was needed, but never created. instead space has had to make due with a virtual MFP, and still fight for priority in the space budgets. In addition, in the 2010-11 timeframe when the Defense Space Council was created and the DoD and Air Force re-organized national security space again, all of the Space Commission actions that had been taken up to that point (again, not as many as the Commission would have like and probably would have made more efficient and helpful) were retrograded such as the disestablishment of the National Security Space Office which was supposed to be the centerpiece architectural and policy development/analysis location for IC and NSS space efforts as well as the Executive Agent role unifying black and white space programs and policy. That and the Executive Agent was almost killed and essentially given little to no authority to do much than try and facilitate the cooperation of organizations that were once unified or closely partnered by law or DoD Directive. Finally, from the budget point of view, which the article was supposed to be about, didn’t mention that prior to the re-organization of 2011, space acquisitions, which is a huge part of the PPBE process for getting space systems into orbit, was separate from the rest of the DoD Acquisition portfolio and had space professionals in charge. During the re-organization, all of that was lumped back under USD/AT&L and in the Air Force, SAF/AQ. So while these changes for PDSA, increased partnership with CAPE and the DSC, and the push for a MFP. These are all things that would have gone better had we kept the other pieces of the Space Commission puzzle in place, rather than destroying them. The reality of this space environment is we took three steps back in 2010 and one step forward in 2016. My hope is that when a new Administration or even new career SES leaders with influence at the senior levels, don’t decide to undo these changes and leave the national security space enterprise back how it was between 2011-2015.

He is indeed correct, in some respects, that “leading voices in the Defense Department, the Air Force, Congress and industry have succeed in elevating space on the national security agenda..” Deputy Secretary Work, for one has been a loud and adamant proponent of space capabilities, but sadly,  even with that support and that of Secretary of the Air Force James, its not headed in the right path fast enough. This isn’t totally unexpected, as many space policy watchers know, there are a lot of layers to the space world, especially in the national security and IC side of things. Multiple agencies and services, multiple offices and departments within those services and agencies, and on top of that multiple congressional and Senate committees and sub-committees, industry groups, lobbying firms and others with differing equities and wish lists to balance. Our nation’s space leaders have to explore ideas from all of them and make decisions, some of them great to those in the trenches and some that leave them scratching heads. The direction has improved somewhat in the last two years, but frankly we have a long way to go and we really need to remove more of these layers out of the way to get the real, unified, credible space deterrent force this nation needs to enable a more pro-active strategy and not one that is ready to “respond” to threats from China and Russia, etc. .

The only thing he really showed on the budget was an oversimplified “major investments” table showing some of the major programs and projected FY17 budget changes from FY16 projections. This is useful info, but again…if he wanted to really de-code these numbers for us as his title alluded, he really should have given more background as to why these specific programs had growths or drops in funding; who made that decision and why and if this is a short term drop or increase and what that means for the future of American space security? That would have been a great article, not one repeating news we have already read many times before in Space News and other great outlets of space policy, strategy and budget information.



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