Senate NDAA Could Include Space Frontier Act, Intelligence Authorization

Senate NDAA Could Include Space Frontier Act, Intelligence Authorization

The Senate is still on track to take up the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) tomorrow.  Among the many amendments that will be offered are two that would attach the Space Frontier Act and the Intelligence Authorization Act to the bill.  With so little legislation getting through the Senate these days, the NDAA may be one of the few trains leaving the station this year, so many want to climb aboard.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on a procedural step (cloture) on the NDAA tomorrow afternoon.  The bill was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in May, but the final text of the bill and accompanying report were released just last week, S. 1790 (S. Rept. 116-48).  Among its many provisions, it authorizes creation of a Space Force as part of the Air Force, although it is somewhat different from the House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC’s) version and quite different from what the Pentagon submitted in March.

Patrick Shanahan, who is stepping down as Acting Secretary of Defense and withdrawing as nominee for Secretary of Defense, was pivotal in developing the Pentagon’s Space Force proposal. What impact his departure will have as the House, Senate, DOD and the White House negotiate the final details and the plan is executed within DOD is a big unknown.

Meanwhile, among the myriad amendments being offered to the Senate’s NDAA are two other bills.  The NDAA is considered “must pass” legislation, and with few bills getting floor time this year, many Senators want to use it as a vehicle for other legislation that can pass the germaneness test.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) will offer an amendment to include the Space Frontier Act that cleared the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in April. It is a new version of a bill by the same name that almost got through the last Congress, but was defeated at the last minute in the House.  It requires modernization of regulations for commercial space launch services and commercial remote sensing, creates a Bureau of Space Commerce within the Department of Commerce (but is silent on the bigger issue of whether it should be in charge of regulating non-traditional space activities or serve as the civilian interface for space situational awareness date), and extends the lifetime of the International Space Station to at least 2030.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina)

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), will propose annexing the FY2018, FY2019 and FY2020 Intelligence Authorization bill, S. 1589 (S. Rept. 166-47), to the NDAA.  That was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 11.  In terms of space activities, the bill authorizes the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which builds and operates the nation’s spy satellites, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), a significant user of space data.  Among its unclassified space-related provisions, the bill would:

  • create an NRO advisory board (which is contrary to the Trump Administration’s goal of reducing the number of government advisory committees) although it would exist for only 3 years;
  • require a report from NRO on its efforts to engage with universities;
  • require the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to supplement an earlier briefing on plans to use state owned and operated spaceports;
  • require a briefing on NRO’s Acquisition Research Center to ensure its flexible process also ensures fair and open competition;
  • require a briefing from NGA, in coordination with the DNI, the Director of the CIA, and the Director of NRO, on providing access to NGA data to the private sector and academia for specific purposes;
  • require NRO to eliminate any restrictions that prohibit or discourage contractors from contacting, meeting with or providing information to congressional intelligence committees;
  • require a briefing from NRO and NGA on innovative ways to allow small businesses and non-traditional government contractors to certify working spaces where highly classified information can be shared;
  • require a briefing from NRO on how it can innovatively leverage commercial and government R&D efforts and incorporate them into NRO programs of record; and
  • require a briefing from NRO on how to improve the unclassified marketplace process to allow it to embrace commercial innovation.



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