Biden to Face Buying-Powers Debate for Trump Legacy Space Force

  • Acquisition strategy due to Congress May 15 under defense bill
  • Internal disagreements have stalled changes under Trump

President Donald Trump’s push for one of his military priorities — creating a Space Force to head off threats from Russia and China — will leave his successor Joe Biden to resolve disputes over the service’s purchasing powers.

The Pentagon must give congressional defense committees an acquisition strategy by May 15, according to the annual defense authorization bill (H.R. 6395), which the House will consider today. Lawmakers want to see how the new military service plans to be more innovative and efficient when developing software and hardware such as satellites.

The measure would give the next administration a crack at creating a pillar of the nascent Space Force, which is about to reach its first anniversary. The Biden team must also find a way to satisfy lawmakers who want to see new technology deployed quickly but also want to retain oversight. Biden has also indicated his initial focus after taking office Jan. 20 will be fighting the coronavirus pandemic, generating jobs, and shoring up health care.

The May 2021 Space Force deadline will push the administration to produce a strategy within its first four months. Biden’s pick for defense secretary, likely to be retired Army General Lloyd Austin, will be in charge of overseeing the strategy and a first defense budget request in the early months of the new administration.

Airman 1st Class Zoe Thacker/U.S.Air Force
A Falcon 9 rocket launches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Nov. 11, 2019.

Once the strategy is submitted, the defense bill would require the Government Accountability Office to analyze it within 60 days.

Meanwhile, the legislation would prohibit the Pentagon from moving to streamline space acquisition procedures until a newly created position, the Air Force Service Acquisition Executive for space systems and programs, is filled by an official confirmed by the Senate. The fiscal 2020 defense authorization law (Public Law 116-92) mandated the executive position be filled on or after Oct. 1, 2022.

NDAA Major Authorizations, Weapons, Space, & Research for FY2021

Trump’s White House Office of Management and Budget rejected a proposal from Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett to Congress in May. It would have allowed the Space Force to move around more fiscal year funding with less congressional approval and would have reduced notification requirements to lawmakers on new programs.

The Air Force said Monday the strategy remains in interagency review, and would be turned over to lawmakers when completed.

Trump’s administration said the proposal wasn’t in taxpayers’ best interest.

The Pentagon submitted the report to Congress without OMB approval in May then rescinded it within days and labeled it a draft. The list of proposals also raised concerns on the House Armed Services Committee, which asked the GAO to investigate the process.

To contact the reporter on this story: Travis J. Tritten at ttritten@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com

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