As the FY 2013 budget showdown begins in Congress, members of the geospatial intelligence community continue to advocate for the tradecraft and the future of U.S. commercial imagery.
The Space Enterprise Council hosted a panel titled “The Importance of Commercial Remote Sensing to Economic and National Security” April 27 on Capitol Hill, bringing together industry and government experts from GeoEye, ITT Exelis, Google, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The panelists expressed their concern with the potential cuts to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) 10-year, $7.3 billion EnhancedView program, which provides unclassified commercial imagery to NGA as well as to the overall Intelligence Community, DOD, federal agencies, and U.S. allies.
In the Obama administration’s defense budget request for FY 2013, commercial imagery is listed among many programs at risk for cuts as the DOD aims to reduce its spending by $259 billion over the next five years. Although the NGA budget and therefore the proposed EnhancedView cut are classified, some analysts predict the program could suffer a cut as deep as 50 percent.
Eve Douglas, a senior program analyst with NOAA’s Office of Space Commercialization, whose mission is to ensure that the United States is a world leader in space commerce, expressed her concern for the United States’ competitive advantage in the worldwide market.
“If our vision is truly to remain the world leader, then I’m not sure we’re doing what’s right for our country,” Douglas said during the Capitol Hill panel.
She emphasized that although U.S. imagery is arguably of better quality than that of foreign competitors, many customers only require an image that is “good enough.”
“We are no longer the sole market leader,” Douglas said. “This is about markets. This is not the size of the meter, this is not the actual pixel in the data. These are products that are on sale in the market.”
She continued, warning against restrictive U.S. policies that prevent U.S. companies from being competitive overseas.
“These policies, they only apply to the U.S.,” Douglas said. “We can’t tell other countries what to do, but we can promote the U.S. industry and make it the best in the world.”
Michele Weslander Quaid, chief technology officer (federal) with Google, appealed to the audience by describing her background in previous positions with the NGA, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). She also outlined the need to differentiate between classified and commercial satellite systems.
For example, Weslander Quaid said, the NRO should focus on goals that are “exquisite,” and leave the rest to industry.
“If industry can do it then the government shouldn’t compete with that,” she said. “The government should focus their limited resources on things that are unique to the government mission.”
Douglas also pointed to the need to support a robust industrial base, in particular GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, the two major U.S. commercial imagery companies on the EnhancedView contract.
“Our industrial base is fragile and if we’re not careful and don’t take the right steps then we’re not going to be able to sustain and enhance it,” Douglas said.
Recognition for the importance of commercial remote sensing appears to be building in Congress as the House and Senate prepare to debate the 2013 Defense Authorization Act.
The Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the bill May 24 with a provision to restore $125 million of the undisclosed EnhancedView cut in order to maintain commercial imagery purchases at FY 2012 levels. The committee’s mark up also includes a mandate that studies by the Joint Staff and the Congressional Budget Office be conducted to assess the requirements and role of commercial imagery. The committee mark up must still go to a full Senate vote.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the 2013 Defense Authorization Act May 18. Negotiations between the House and Senate will continue throughout the summer, with a final version anticipated in the fall.
Additionally, the House passed the FY 2013 Intelligence Authorization Bill proposed by the House Intelligence Committee May 31, which includes investments in “key areas” such as counterterrorism, cybersecurity, counterintelligence, and space.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., warned against the dangers of sequestration in a statement given on the House floor.
“The [NGA] would be forced to cut back the number of satellite images it analyzes, reducing our odds of detecting significant foreign military activity, such as North Korean preparations for an attack on our troops in South Korea,” Rogers said, citing just one example of the potential impacts.