Donley Pushes Major Space Changes

With the stroke of a pen Air Force Secretary Mike Donley engaged one of the most complex bureaucratic challenges faced by the service: how to buy, build and manage satellites and the rockets that move them into space. In perhaps the biggest change, Donley vested the service's undersecretary, Erin Conaton, with the responsiblity for guiding all space policy activities overseen by the Air Force. The assistant secretary for acqusiution will now lead all space acquisition, combining traditional fighter, bomber and other service acquisition with space.

With the stroke of a pen Air Force Secretary Mike Donley engaged one of the most complex bureaucratic challenges faced by the service: how to buy, build and manage satellites and the rockets that move them into space. Donley, seeking to clarify what experts say was a confusing and sometimes ineffective system, ordered several important changes to how the Air Force’s space community is organized and to who makes what decisions.

In perhaps the biggest change declared in his memo, Donley vested the service’s undersecretary, Erin Conaton, with the responsibility for guiding all space policy activities overseen by the Air Force. The assistant secretary for acquisition will now lead all space acquisition, combining traditional fighter, bomber and other service acquisition with space.

In a separate report, the man who recommended the changes to Donley (one of the country’s most respected military and intelligence space experts) Richard McKinney, said the goal of the changes is to leave the Air Force with a “very visible and effective” focal point for space management.

Conaton knows relatively little about space but is a tireless worker. Given the unique nature of most space acquisition, she will need all the best advice she can get.

Donley also created a new space board, run by the undersecretary and the vice chief of staff, to manage interservice issues and the intricate and long-troubled relations between the military space community and its intelligence counterparts at the DNI, CIA and NRO. The National Security Space Office originally created to provide expert skills for both the NRO and the Air Force but now a rump service entity, will be melded into McKinney’s office of deputy undersecretary office. McKinney’s office will continue to serve as the service’s primary center of expertise on space, advising the new board and the undersecretary.

One of the most delicate policy issues the Air Force must deal with over the next 18 months is the best path forward on the international front for managing space debris and the question of who is responsible and what they must do when satellites collide or are destroyed.

[This story should be updated tomorrow when we get more reaction and analysis of these changes from summertime Washington.]