HASC Wants Answers on DOD Use of Foreign Commercial Satellites

HASC Wants Answers on DOD Use of Foreign Commercial Satellites

House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) has released the text of the draft FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) his committee will markup on Wednesday.  Among the provisions in the 426-page bill, H.R.1960, is one that requires the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) to answer questions about why DOD leases communications satellite services from certain countries subject to U.S. sanctions.

At a hearing before HASC’s Strategic Forces subcommittee in April, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Doug Loverro revealed that DOD is leasing services on a Chinese-owned communications satellite.   The revelation came as a surprise considering that many House Republicans are opposed to civilian space cooperation with China and the law prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from spending any money in connection with China unless certain conditions are met.  No similar restrictions have been placed on DOD, however.  At least not yet.

Noting that 40 percent of DOD’s satellite communications are provided through commercial satellites, the draft bill requires the SecDef to explain why DOD uses satellite services from “certain foreign providers.”  The bill identifies those as countries subject to sanctions and laws such as section 1261(c)(2) of the FY2013 NDAA and the Iran, North Korea, Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA).   “While the committee has received some information from the Department … the responses to straight-forward questions have changed over time.  The committee is disappointed by the Department’s lack of clarity … and … concerned that the Department has not established effective management controls over commercial satellite leases, and in particular, ones regarding certain foreign providers.”

Among the topics the SecDef is required to address is why “other commercial or U.S. Government providers, including the Operationally Responsive Space office, were not available or tasked to fill the requirement.”  The fate of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office itself was not addressed in either the draft bill or a summary of its main provisions released by HASC today.   Congress rejected DOD’s proposal to terminate ORS last year, but the Air Force has again proposed terminating it this year.  In the material released today, it does not appear that HASC is changing any of the funding requests for DOD space activities.

On other commercial space matters, the summary of main provisions says that the bill requires DOD to “develop a strategy to lower the cost, through multi-year procurement, of commercial satellite services.”  Separately it “reforms DoD’s business process with commercial satellite companies ensuring that strategic competitors do not gain inadvertent access to vital systems or information.”  Details on what the committee has in mind on those two fronts hopefully will be in the report to accompany the bill, which was not released today. 

Overall, the bill would provide $552.1 billion for national defense (of which $526.6 billion is for the core DOD budget) plus $85.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (e.g. the war in Afghanistan).  The $85.8 billion is $5.1 billion more than the President’s request.  McKeon said the funding figures are consistent with the House-passed budget resolution, but Jeremy Herb, writing for the The Hill newspaper, reports that the $526.6 billion for the core DOD budget is $52 billion above the spending cap in the 2011 Budget Control Act that created sequestration.  “If the budget stays over the caps and sequester is not reversed, the Pentagon would face another across-the-board cut,” Herb says.

Full committee markup begins at 10:00 am ET on Wednesday and will be webcast on the committee’s website.

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