JUST IN: Lawmakers See No Reason to Merge Space Force, NRO

By Stew Magnuson
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a critical payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

ULA photo

Three members of Congress closely involved in military space said they see no compelling reason to merge the fledgling Space Force with the National Reconnaissance Office.

In terms of acquisitions, both the Department of the Air Force — which the Space Force is part of — and the NRO are in the business of developing and procuring satellites. The major difference is that the NRO is in charge of highly classified spy satellites.

The question put forth during a panel discussion Aug. 20 at the Space Warfighting Industry Forum was: should the NRO be folded into the Space Force?

The answer from three lawmakers on the panel was a resounding “no.”

Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., said, “The NRO has a very significant intelligence-gathering function and mission associated with it. And I don't think it mixes that well — nor would it — by being subsumed ... by the Space Force,” he said at the virtual conference, which is hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.

Heck said there is a bias in Congress toward the status quo. The committees are protective of the agencies under their jurisdiction, so there would be resistance to a merger. As a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he shared that bias, he said.

“The status quo of these agencies is [that they] are separate, … and that will manifest itself in the Congress,” Heck said.

Putting political territoriality aside, he suggested that the idea of merging the two organizations was a solution in search of a problem.

“Before you try and jam two entities together and try to create an integrated culture that is well-functioning and efficient, you had better come forward with a really compelling problem statement,” he said. “I'm just going to ask rhetorically what problem would merging these two entities solve?”

The NRO “is the flattest most nimble organizations I've ever seen that operates on that scale,” he added.

Sen. Cory Gardner. R-Colo., echoed that sentiment.

“I was thinking of the old saying, 'if it ain't broke, [don’t] fix it.' I think that this [merger concept] sounds like: it ain't broke, fix it. I don't know if that's the direction we want to go with this,” said Garner, who serves on the subcommittee on aviation and space under the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, ranking member of the subcommittee on strategic forces under the House Armed Services Committee, said there may be opportunities for tightening the link between the Space Force and NRO in the future.

“I wouldn't go yet for consolidation until we get the Space Force right, and it's still in its formative stages,” he said. “If we get it right there may be opportunities for greater collaboration or consolidation, but first we’ve got to get it right."

Topics: Space

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