My role at Intelsat General puts me in near-constant contact with civil and military government customers and it’s a privilege to support those who defend our country. However, we don’t always see things the same way when it comes to planning for the best solutions in space.
One example is a common attitude regarding the new budget reality. I often hear things like “hunker down” and “ride out the budget storm,” as if just waiting long enough will bring us all back to a time of ever increasing military spending. That simply isn’t going to happen, and to understand why you need to look at federal budget reality.
That reality is harsh if you simply look at the numbers. Discretionary spending – both defense and non-defense – will continue to shrink as an overall percentage of the federal budget. And since non-discretionary spending already makes up the majority of the federal budget, its continued growth causes military spending to shrink even faster. In the absence if increased debt ceilings, a two percent increase in non-discretionary spending would force a four percent drop in discretionary spending.
This is the “new normal,” and it demands a new approach to budget civil and military space programs which all land on the “discretionary” portion of the budget pie shown above. A recent GAO report lays out numerous findings in reaching the conclusion that the current model is broken. The current budget process almost forces programs to underestimate costs and overpromise capabilities in order to survive.
Programs of record are budgeted annually, so there is a strong inclination to suppress any bad news which could result in negative public opinions about the program. It appears at times that risk reduction test programs and release of testing results are carefully controlled for the same reasons. Regrettably, program “success” today is becoming defined as progress securing funding for another budget year, rather than delivering a superior capacity to the warfighter on time and on budget.
There are signs of refreshing new approaches to space program innovation. Hosting payloads is an approach by which the DoD can reduce program risk, take advantage of frequent commercial launches and disaggregate space assets. The soon-to-be-awarded Hosted Payloads Solutions (HoPS) IDIQ contract shows exactly this promise, as highlighted in a recent Space News article.
Our country simply cannot continue to spend $1 trillion more than it takes in every year. There is nothing that could be more damaging to our supremacy in space and our national security in general than failing to live within our means.