US lacking secure national space strategy, GAO says

The Government Accountability Office today issued a biting report on the lack of communication between the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies involved in developing the national space program.

The GAO said:  “DOD and the intelligence community have not developed, agreed upon, or issued a National Security Space Strategy. The National Security Space Office developed a draft strategy in 2004, but it was never issued.”  As a result, without a plan that is linked to high-level strategies, the services would not have clearly defined space objectives and milestones to guide their initiatives, nor would the DoD have a mechanism to ensure successful accomplishment of integrated efforts between the defense and intelligence communities without gaps and duplication.

The GAO reports notes a variety of excuses as to why such an overarching and apparently much needed nation strategy was never agreed upon.  For example, the National Security Council requested that the strategy not be issued until the revised National Space Policy was released in October 2006.  However, once the policy was released, changes in leadership in the National Reconnaissance Office and the Air Force delayed the issuance of the strategy. In addition, differences of opinion between the defense and intelligence communities over the implementation of the strategy and cultural differences between the two communities further delayed the issuance, the GAO stated.  

According to its Director, the National Security Space Office continues to work on issuing the national security space strategy. However, the Director noted that a strategy is unlikely to be issued before the upcoming November 2008 presidential election, because it will be difficult to get all relevant parties to agree on a strategy before that time, the GAO report stated.

Regardless of the reasons for not issuing the strategy, DOD officials agree a strategy should be issued and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) officials also see the benefit in having a strategy, the GAO stated. The GAO continued, stating in the absence of an official national security space strategy, the US Strategic Command is drafting a National Military Strategy for Space Operations. The National Military Strategy for Space Operations is exclusively a military document that does not flow from a finalized national security space strategy between DOD and the intelligence community. The fact that a military strategy for space is currently being drafted demonstrates that the defense community recognizes a gap in higher strategic guidance in space that needs to be filled and revised to counter emerging threats.

Because the GAO's previous recommendation regarding the need for a national security space strategy has not been implemented, the GAO said Congress should consider requiring the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to identify and resolve any remaining differences of opinion and issue a National Security Space Strategy.

The DoD’s deputy assistant secretary, Brian Green disagreed with the GAO’s assertion that in the absence of such a strategy, decision with respect ot space cabablities are not being made based on nation priorities.  Green’s comments are included in the GAO report.    

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