Senate committee opts for smaller, cheaper spy satellites

The Senate Intelligence Committee has dealt the Obama administration a setback over plans to buy large, expensive satellites for intelligence and military operations, opting instead for a plan the panel believes would save money and be less risky.

Billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake along with major contracting work for defense and intelligence companies and commercial providers of satellite imagery.

The Senate panel approved a plan backed by Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and ranking member Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., that would allow the government to buy more satellites that are less sophisticated and less costly.

The committee approved the plan last week as part of the fiscal 2010 intelligence authorization bill. It believes the smaller, cheaper satellites will be able to satisfy the needs of U.S. intelligence agencies and the Defense Department.

"For years, billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on programs that haven't worked," Bond said in a statement. "It's better for our national security and our national debt to invest in more capable and affordable overhead programs."

But the House Intelligence Committee's version of the authorization bill is more in line with what the administration proposed, setting up a conflict that will have to be resolved before a final bill is approved, a source said.

"There's a lot of Jell-O hanging on the wall right now and nothing's solidified," another source said.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and Defense Secretary Robert Gates put forward an Imagery Way Ahead proposal in the spring, the latest government effort to replace the nation's aging spy satellites.

Congress killed funding for a previous effort known as the Future Imagery Architecture due to cost overruns and technical problems.

Under the latest plan, the National Reconnaissance Office would buy and launch electro-optical satellites while buying more data from U.S. commercial satellite companies.

Feinstein and Bond expressed their concerns about the new plan to Gates during a hearing last month by the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, another panel they serve on together.

"We have extraordinarily serious concern involving the waste of many, many dollars over a period of years and are rather determined that that not happen again," Feinstein said. "We also have information that the so-called lesser-tiered satellites can be just as effective and have a stealth capability."

Asked for comment on Monday, Blair's office would only say: "We look forward to reviewing the bill and working with Congress on our important national security priorities."

Meanwhile, key lawmakers already have begun trying to bridge divisions in anticipation of conference negotiations over a final intelligence bill.

"There's a lot at stake here; there's a lot of money," said House Intelligence Technical and Tactical Intelligence Subcommittee Chairman C.A. (Dutch) Ruppersberger, D-Md. "In my opinion, if you control the skies, you control the world."

Ruppersberger, who confirmed House and Senate aides are talking, said he believes the government needs sophisticated satellite "workhorses" to meet special needs. But he said the government should use commercial satellites more often when appropriate.

"I would agree that we need a better strategy on overhead architecture that is more comprehensive and long term," said Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., an Intelligence Committee member.

Langevin, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said the government can learn from private satellite firms how to build systems that avoid cost and technical woes. "Mission creep is a huge problem on the government side and we have to get more discipline not to do that," he said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.