The most recent House bill for the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (sec. 507) contains a proposal for the Space Force to have its own legislative liaison. Such a move is long past due. It is obvious that the current situation, in which the Department of the Air Force speaks for the Space Force, is simply not sustainable.
The reasons are practical. The vast majority of time spent by the Air Force’s legislative liaison to Congress is spent on Air Force issues, and most of those are legacy matters. This state of affairs crowds out the ability of the Space Force’s Guardians to meaningfully engage with Congress to develop space power. It also limits the ability of the Space Force to form a direct and trusting connection with the American people.
Space, in other words, is currently getting short shrift. The pervasive nature of the Air Force’s problems with its aging fleet means that we never get to the most important questions relating to America’s vision for and activities in space. A dedicated legislative liaison for the Space Force would allow a deeper engagement with Capitol Hill on space power issues.
Reputation matters, too. For decades, Congress has complained that, of all the military service branches, the Air Force is exceptional in its poor and tardy engagement. The Space Force should not want to be saddled with this unfortunate history, nor to continue with its inertia. Rather, America’s newest military branch has the opportunity to create a new culture of engagement with Congress — one that it needs to embrace if it is to secure our nation’s interests in, from, and to space.
Among the most important benefits to Congress and the public is a greater potential to get to the raw, unfiltered truth. Does anyone seriously think that it is healthy for our military or our democracy for the Space Force to have to ask permission from the Air Force before being allowed to tell its story or highlight issues unique to its mission?
By now, it should be clear to everyone that there is an inherent and deep conflict of interest between the Air Force and the Space Force.
The Executive Branch understands this. The Trump administration’s Space Policy Directive 4, Section 10 stated, “As the United States Space Force matures, and as national security requires, it will become necessary to create a separate military department, to be known as the Department of the Space Force. This department will take over some or all responsibilities for the United States Space Force from the Department of the Air Force.”
It further directs the Secretary of Defense to “conduct periodic reviews to determine when to recommend that the president seek legislation to establish such a department.”
The intent is clear. It is in the interest of the nation for the Space Force to grow over time into its own department. And it is in the interests of the Space Force to be plain and honest about its needs and vision. A dedicated Space Force liaison to Congress will help members actually learn what the Space Force thinks.
Moreover, a precedent for this certainly exists. The U.S. Marine Corps, though formally part of the Department of the Navy, boasts its own independent Office of Legislative Affairs led by a two-star general, equal in rank to the leadership of the Navy’s own legislative affairs office. If that balance was struck for the Marines, it makes all the more sense for America’s newest service branch to be able to tell its own story to Capitol Hill.
Congress, for its part, seems to grasp this state of affairs. Now, it just needs to make it a reality.
Peter Garretson is Senior Fellow in Defense Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.
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