HASC Subcommittee Rescues ORS, Denies Advanced Appropriations for SBIRS

HASC Subcommittee Rescues ORS, Denies Advanced Appropriations for SBIRS

In less than 5 minutes today, the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) approved the subcommittee’s recommendations for its portion of the FY2013 defense authorization act.  One of those recommendations is to preserve the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program, which the Department of Defense (DOD) wants to dissolve.  The draft bill also denies DOD’s request for advance appropriations as part of its Efficient Space Procurement (ESP) strategy, and restricts spending for launch vehicles until the Air Force submits an associated acquisition plan.

The various HASC subcommittees are marking up their portions of the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 4310 ) today and tomorrow.  The Strategic Forces subcommittee has jurisdiction over most DOD space activities.

HASC has a special section of its website with the bill and report language recommended by each of the subcommittees and video of the markups.

The Strategic Forces subcommittee denied DOD’s request to dissolve the ORS program office and integrate the ORS concept into other parts of the Air Force space program.   ORS was created in the FY2007 John Warner National Defense Authorization Act to demonstrate the ability to build and launch small specialized satellites quickly to respond to the needs of joint commanders.  The committee rejected DOD’s request to repeal that section of the law, denied the $10 million DOD requested over five different budget accounts to integrate ORS into its other activities, and added $25 million to continue the ORS program.

Separately, the subcommittee disapproved DOD’s request for advanced appropriations for the Space-Based InfraRed System (SBIRS) as part of its latest attempt at reforming satellite procurement.  The committee agrees with the effort to reduce costs through acquisition reform, but not with providing the money in advance.  This year’s effort, ESP, replaces last year’s Evolutionary Acquisition for Space Efficiency (EASE).  Congress did not agree with advanced appropriations last year either.   DOD believes that block-buys of multi-satellite systems, like SBIRS, could reduce costs if it had the money in advance.  Congress, however, appropriates money incrementally, one year at a time. The language in the draft bill adopted today says that the committee “does not support the request for advanced appropriations authority and notes … [it] would limit the oversight ability of future Congresses.”  The committee does, however, support other aspects of ESP, saying that it anticipates DOD will “realize substantial savings from the ESP block buy approach, enabled by a fixed-price contract and fixed requirements.”   It directs DOD to reinvest any money it saves into a “spacecraft modernization initiative, where research and development activities are competitively awarded and new technologies are matured for insertion in future blocks of SBIRS satellites or other space-based infrared sensors.”

Regarding launch vehicles, the committee noted that DOD has not submitted its acquisition strategy for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) and prohibits spending 10 percent of the funds allocated to EELVs until it does.  It lists a number of topics that must be addressed in the report, including “an assessment of when new entrants will be certified to compete” for EELV-class launches.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is then required to review the acquisition plan.  SpaceX, a “new entrant,” announced plans to build a “Falcon-Heavy” version of its Falcon rocket and does not want to be shut out of competing for DOD space launches, but DOD is reluctant to risk its vital, expensive satellites on unproven rockets.

Among other things, the draft bill also —

  • requires DOD to report to Congress by December 1, 2012 on a lower cost solution for providing GPS capability following the procurement of GPS III;
  • encourages DOD to use existing or easily modified government and commercial applications for the Joint Space Operations Center Mission System in order to reduce costs, with a report due to Congress 270 days after enactment certifying that the Air Force has conducted thorough market research and technical evaluation of non-developmental items; and
  • requires DOD to submit annual reports on the “synchronization of satellite, ground and user terminal segments of space major defense acquisition programs” in response to concerns that the ground segments for space-based systems sometimes are not ready at the time the satellites are launched, wasting that capability.


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