Opening Statement by Ranking Member Reed at SASC Hearing to Hear Proposal to Establish a United States Space Force
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing to discuss the Department’s proposal to establish a United States Space Force. I would also like to welcome our distinguished witnesses, and I look forward to their testimony.
All of us would agree that space is essential to the security and progress of the United States. It is a critical component of almost every aspect of everyday life – from communications, financial transactions, and navigation, to the weather. For decades, the United States enjoyed unfettered access to space. However, as near peer competitors increase their space presence, space is becoming contested. Eventually it could be a warfighting domain, and we must prepare accordingly. The question is how.
There are legitimate concerns that the Department of Defense is not effectively organized to address the threats posed by our near-peer adversaries in space. Congress has grappled with how to address these concerns. In fact, in 2017 we debated a House proposal on whether or not to create a Space Corps. Ultimately, due to strong opposition in the Senate, and from senior officials within the Department, including some of today’s witnesses, Congress did not create a Space Corps, but we did strengthen the space cadre and space acquisition authorities within the Air Force and specifically within the Air Force Space Command. Last year, Congress took an additional step and created a sub-unified command for space reporting to the U.S. Strategic Command.
This year, the Administration has proposed to establish the U.S. Space Force as a new military service within the Air Force, responsible for organizing, training, and equipping all forces who will fight in the space domain. The proposal is essentially the same House proposal we debated in 2017. I fully agree that the threat is real and that changes need to be made to better address the threat. However, creating a new branch of the Armed Forces for the first time in seventy years is not a decision Congress should make lightly. Such a major reorganization will have long lasting consequences, both intended and unintended, for how our forces will fight for decades into the future.
While the Department’s proposal appears comprehensive there are areas where I have questions and concerns that I hope we can discuss during today’s hearing.
My first area of concern is the creation of what seems to be a top heavy bureaucracy. According to initial estimates, the Space Force will be a military service of approximately 16,500 people. Roughly 1,000 personnel will serve in headquarters positions. Presently, the smallest force is the Marine Corps with a total force size of 246,000 military and civilian personnel, and a headquarters staff of 1,200.
This Space Force would be in the Department of the Air Force, similar to the Navy-Marine Corps model. However, this proposal creates a new Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space, whereas the Marine Corps does not have a separate undersecretary. The proposal also creates two new 4-star General Officers in Space Force – one for the Chief of Staff and the other for the Vice-Chief of Staff of the Space Force. The Chief of Staff of the Space Force would be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I hope our witnesses will explain why the Space Force requires a separate and dedicated Under Secretary unlike the Marine Corps, and whether such a top-heavy bureaucracy is necessary for such a small fighting force.
The Department states that a new military service will “significantly increase focus in leadership, expertise, personnel, and culture.” With regard to the personnel actions requested, I have some concerns that this proposal may actually have the opposite effect.
Of the 16,500 members of this force, 10,500 would be active duty service members almost exclusively from the Air Force and a significant number of Space Force general officers would be drawn largely from the Air Force. Therefore, the future pool of officers from which the Space Force would grow field-grade and general officers would be small compared to other services and predominantly from one service. This raises questions about the depth, breadth, diversity, and long-term quality of the officer corps.
While predominantly made up of Air Force personnel, the proposal seeks to consolidate much of the space activities of the other services into Space Force. The Department is specifically requesting authority for the Secretary of Defense to transfer military and civilian personnel, both voluntarily and involuntarily, and their associated budgets and billets to the Space Force. While it is possible all these transfers could be done voluntarily, I believe that scenario is highly unlikely. The connection a service member has to their individual military branch is often deep-rooted and a part of their identity. Furthermore, the Department has not yet decided on what role the Guard and Reserve will play in this new service.
This proposal would authorize a new civilian personnel system, exclusive to the Space Force that would be exempted from the statutory rules and protections applicable to most other federal employees, including anti-discrimination laws and whistleblower protections. Most notably, the proposal would create a statutory exemption from collective bargaining rights for this workforce, and would authorize the Department to involuntarily transfer civilian employees, stripping them of their collective bargaining rights in the process.
The Department’s initial cost estimate for Space Force in FY20 is $72 million. However, the Department has provided only notional budget numbers for out-year budgets with an estimate that Space Force will require approximately $1.6 billion over the FYDP based on a flat $500 million recurring cost for personnel. It is highly unlikely that the bureaucracy of a Space Force will remain flat over time. I think providing DOD with wide legislative authority to create a new bureaucracy without more robust budget details is risky.
On a final point, the National Reconnaissance Office is responsible for our nation’s intelligence collection in space. It is a joint organization between DOD and the Intelligence Community. Clearly, it will play a critical role in space as a warfighting domain, yet it is not part of this proposal in any way. I understand there are difficult issues to address in both the Administration and Congress on any changes to the status quo, but I am interested in why this obvious seam in the organization of space was not addressed, and I am interested in hearing from the witnesses on this issue.
Again, the threats we face in the space domain are clear and require action. I look forward to this hearing as a step forward in determining what actions are best. Thank you again to the Chairman for calling this hearing and to our witnesses.