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Sept. 8, 2010—The Air Force Secretary currently lacks the authority to effectively manage military space issues across the Department of Defense. This is problematic because the Secretary is still DOD's executive agent for space.

That's one of the main themes emanating from USAF's review of its headquarters-level space functions issued in late August. (Review)

The responsibilities currently assigned "are no longer supported with empowering and matching authorities," reads the review. In fact, the EA for space "lacks the authority necessary to address and resolve space issues within DOD," states the document.

It's ultimately up to the Office of the Secretary of Defense to decide what authorities the EA for space should have. Discussions between Air Force and OSD representatives are ongoing "to clarify the specific roles" for the executive agent, according to the review.

The Air Force Secretary was assigned the executive agent role in 2003 as one of the major changes resulting from the Rumsfeld Space Commission's findings in 2001. The Air Force Secretary then delegated the role to the USAF undersecretary.

At the time, the undersecretary's responsibilities included milestone decision authority for major space acquisition programs. That essentially meant being empowered to decide whether a satellite program or other space project was ready to enter its next phase of development, or production. It also entailed being accountable to higher authorities like Congress for the cost, schedule, and performance of those programs.

By 2005, some of the Air Force's big-ticket space acquisition programs were beset by cost growth and technical issues. Then, during a temporary vacuum in several USAF leadership positions, OSD's acquisition executive seized the milestone decision authority. That power resides in the OSD office to this day.

Air Force officials, including Secretary Michael Donley, have gone on the record saying they would like to see milestone decision authority restored to USAF's purview.

While some may view the EA for space role without milestone decision authority as a hollow position, Air Force space officials say the position has still made substantial contributions since 2005.

"No other office looks across the entirety of the DOD with a focus specifically towards space," an Air Force spokesman told the Daily Report.

The executive agent "has been instrumental in doing the overall planning and assessment of the DOD space mission since its inception [in 2003]," this spokesman said.

Further, "Many of the budget decisions over the past several years have been a direct result of the involvement of the EA for space," he said.

The EA for space also provides oversight for DOD's operationally responsive space office.

Whatever changes may come, Donley intends to retain the EA for space duties at his Secretary level, according to the service spokesman. This is despite the fact that Erin Conaton has been in place as USAF undersecretary since March and was just given a strengthened role in space oversight based on the findings of the space review.

[Note: The Daily Report incorrectly reported last week that the Air Force lost the executive agent role in 2005 when OSD took over the milestone decision authority. We have since corrected our original entry.]