Fast Facts

DOD plans to spend about $65 billion through 2023 on satellites, launch vehicles, ground control facilities, and other space-related acquisitions. Recently, DOD was directed to submit a legislative proposal to establish the U.S. Space Force.

Does DOD know whether it has the right workforce to handle all of these expensive and complex acquisitions?

We found that DOD does not routinely monitor the size, mix, or location of the military and civilian workforce supporting its space-related acquisition programs.

We recommended, among other things, that DOD collect comprehensive data on its space programs acquisition workforce.

The Four Segments Needed to Provide Space Systems Capabilities

Illustration of the types of component systems needed to provide a space system's capabilities.

Illustration of the types of component systems needed to provide a space system's capabilities.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) does not routinely monitor the size, mix, and location of its space acquisition workforce. However, data GAO collected and aggregated from multiple DOD space acquisition organizations show that at least 8,000 personnel in multiple locations nationwide were working on space acquisition activities at the end of 2017 (see figure). Also as shown, military and civilian personnel comprise the majority of the overall workforce, while contractor and Federally Funded Research and Development Center personnel also provide support.

Primary Locations and Size of Department of Defense (DOD) Space Acquisition Workforce Identified by GAO as of December 31, 2017 Primary Locations and Size of Department of Defense (DOD) Space Acquisition Workforce Identified by GAO as of December 31, 2017

Several factors hinder DOD's ability to collect data needed for a comprehensive view of its space acquisition workforce:

  • DOD does not maintain a complete list of its space acquisition programs;
  • DOD's workforce data systems are not configured to identify personnel working on space acquisition activities; and
  • DOD space acquisition personnel are dispersed across organizations and some personnel support both space and non-space programs.

Without complete and accurate data, DOD cannot assess gaps in the overall capabilities of the space acquisition workforce. Identifying space programs and collecting such data would also better position DOD to ensure that the appropriate space acquisition personnel are assigned to the new Space Development Agency and the United States Space Command. Finally, comprehensive data on the space acquisition workforce would also be beneficial to support DOD's efforts related to its recent legislative proposal regarding the establishment of the United States Space Force.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD plans to spend about $65 billion from fiscal year 2019 to 2023 on space acquisition programs—including satellites, launch vehicles, ground components, and user equipment. DOD's space acquisition personnel perform a variety of activities, such as preparing and reviewing acquisition documents, to manage or oversee programs that develop or procure space capabilities. DOD recently announced it plans to establish a new Space Development Agency and a United States Space Command.

A House Report accompanying a bill for the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act contained a provision for GAO to review DOD's space acquisition workforce. This report examines, among other things, what is known about the size, mix, and location of that workforce. GAO collected data from DOD's acquisition workforce data systems and multiple space acquisition organizations. GAO interviewed officials from these organizations and from a non-generalizable sample of 10 space acquisition programs, representing a range of dollar values and stages in the acquisition process.

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Recommendations

GAO recommends that DOD (1) identifies the universe of its space acquisition programs and the organizations that support them and (2) collects and maintains data on the workforce that supports these programs. DOD agreed with the first recommendation, but not the second. GAO revised the second recommendation to address DOD's concerns.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the military services and other DOD components to identify the universe of space acquisition programs, as well as the various organizations that support these programs, and report this information to Congress. In doing so, DOD should implement procedures to maintain and periodically update the list. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In its Corrective Action Plan (CAP) provided in August 2020, DOD states that this recommendation is no longer applicable due to the establishment of the U.S. Space Force on December 20, 2019. All space acquisition programs previously in the Air Force were transferred to the Space Force upon stand up and funding followed with the fiscal year 2021 President's Budget submission. The transfer of the other services' and Defense Agencies' space acquisition programs and funding not previously implemented with the fiscal year 2021 budget were completed in the submission of the fiscal year 2022 President's Budget in May 2021. These efforts meet the intent of our recommendation to identify the universe of space acquisition programs. Further, this information will better ensure DOD can assess gaps in the overall capabilities of its space acquisition workforce and determine whether it has sufficient internal capability and critical knowledge or skills for its space acquisitions.
Department of Defense The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, in conjunction with the Under Secretaries of Defense for Research and Development and for Personnel and Readiness, should collect and maintain data on acquisition-coded military and civilian personnel that support space acquisition programs and related activities—including those that may do so less than full time—as well as track the contractor and Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) workforce general levels of effort supporting space acquisition programs and related activities and the total resources annually committed to perform that work. (Recommendation 2)
Closed - Not Implemented
DOD did not concur with this recommendation. In March 2019, DOD stated that the manner in which personnel data are captured in existing human resource and development systems makes it difficult and impractical to identify, collect, and maintain data on the military and civilian personnel working on space acquisition programs. Since then, the Space Force was established in 2019 and DOD began working to identify which organizations and personnel will transfer to the Space Force. In April 2021, DOD officials stated that DOD plans to determine the best format and means to report data on its military and civilian acquisition workforce within Space Force by October 2022. Once this is determined, DOD aims to provide an aggregate report of available military and civilian space acquisition workforce data to Congress. These steps do not fulfill the intent of the recommendation for DOD to routinely collect comprehensive data on all segments of the space acquisition workforce--including civilian, military, contractor and Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) personnel--to determine whether it has sufficient internal capability and critical knowledge or skills for its space acquisitions or to support workforce decisions for the Space Force.

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