Kendall looks to accelerate appointment of civilian leader to oversee Space Force acquisitions

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Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall speaks with Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. Raymond, left, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. and Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones during his first staff meeting with the Department of the Air Force’s service chiefs, at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va., July 28, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Eric Dietrich)

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is asking Congress to authorize a new assistant secretary for space acquisitions before the Oct. 1, 2022, date that was set in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

A Department of the Air Force spokesman told SpaceNews Kendall is working with both the House and the Senate to amend the 2022 NDAA so a new assistant secretary for space acquisitions can be nominated and, if confirmed by the Senate, take office sooner than next October.

The 2020 NDAA directed the Air Force to create a new office with the title of assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration to oversee Space Force programs. Air Force programs would remain under the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics known as SAF/AQ.

Currently SAF/AQ has legal authority over both Air Force and Space Force programs.

Kendall in a speech at the Space Symposium in August announced plans to reorganize SAF/AQ and create a separate office for for space acquisition designated SAF/SQ. That move is intended to comply with the 2020 NDAA mandate but Kendall said he needed help from Congress so the new assistant secretary for space acquisition and integration would not have to wait until Oct. 1 next year to have actual authority to do the job.

The spokesman said Kendall’s recommended changes to the 2022 NDAA would authorize the new position as soon as the law is signed.

Kendall said this reorganization is a priority in order for the Space Force to innovate faster in the face of Chinese advancements in space technology and anti-satellite weapons.

Kendall in August said he was reviewing candidates for the SAF/SQ position. He temporarily assigned Brig. Gen. Steve Whitney to run SAF/SQ with the title of military deputy at the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration.

According to several sources, a short list of potential SAF/SQ nominees includes the director of the Space Development Agency Derek Tournear, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office Randy Walden and the principal deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office Troy Meink.

Kendall’s spokesman said the SAF/SQ office will focus on “the acquisition of space systems and technical capabilities.”

The Air Force previously had a space policy office led by Shawn Barnes that combined acquisition, policy and international affairs. The spokesman said space acquisition policy will remain in SAF/SQ “while broader policy discussions will occur across the U.S. Space Force.” International affairs will be consolidated under the office of Kelli Seybolt, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs.

President Biden nominated Andrew Hunter to be assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. In that position, Hunter will be the head of SAF/AQ but not SAF/SQ. However only Hunter will have legal authority as senior acquisition executive over air and space until the new assistant secretary for space acquisition and integration is confirmed and takes over SAF/SQ.

Hunter had a confirmation hearing Oct. 5 and the Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to move his nomination forward this month, although it’s unclear when he’ll get a full Senate vote. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have threatened to block Biden’s State and Defense Department nominees over the administration’s Afghanistan exit.

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