WASHINGTON: Congress sometimes has a strange way of rewarding the armed services when they actually manage to save some of the taxpayers’ money. For example, when an Air Force program manager managed to reduce the expected cost of a program in half Congress cut half the funds allocated for his program.
That was the complaint yesterday of Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, who gently cautioned his “congressional teammates” about “the danger of careless marks” when crafting defense appropriations bills.
During a talk to a friendly audience (the Air Force Association), Shelton talked about the importance of teamwork with his command’s partners, including Congress, which he said “has come to recognize the vital role” that the space and cyber capabilities fielded by AFSC.
But Congress, he added, needs to recognize that those “careless marks” may result in higher costs, program delays and greater risk.
Shelton cited the action by the House Appropriations Committee that affected one of his key programs, the update to the ancient data management system of the Joint Space Operations Center. The new system, known as JSOC Mission Systems, will manage vital data for space-based operations for Strategic Command and all other military and governmental space operators. It also tracks the 22,000-plus pieces of space debris that can threaten orbiting satellites and even the manned International Space Station.
Shelton earlier said the center’s information processing system would be eligible for an antique car license plate because its last software upgrade was in 1994. But after “several fits and starts,” he said, the command finally had developed and got approved a long-term plan to upgrade the joint center’s mission systems.
The center’s managers had worked to cut the cost of the update by half and to field the new capabilities years earlier than originally expected, the general said.
“But in reward for that good work, one committee has rescinded $40 million, based on outdated information.” That cut, which represented about half of the funds provided in 2012, will mean delays to retirement of the old system. And that will mean increased costs and increase the risk of using “our outdated capability, which is well past — well past — its intended life,” he said.
That cut is not final because Congress never got around to passing any of the FY13 appropriations bills in its election year-shortened session but, Shelton said, Space Command had to assume it would get the reduced funding, forcing the costly delay in modernizing the vital system.