Checking Underperformance: US Space Acquisitions Chief Wants More Authority to Blacklist Contractors

Space

Washington: The US Space Force’s top acquisition official wants authority to effectively blacklist underperforming defence contractors — an ability that now resides with the military official who leads the service’s purchasing field command.

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The Fiscal 2018 National Defence Authorisation Act mandated the creation of a Contractor Responsibility Watch List designed to allow Space Systems Command to hold companies accountable for poor performance and cost overruns. Contracting officials are barred from awarding new contracts or extending options on existing deals with a firm placed on the list.

Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, told lawmakers that while the tool is helpful, he’d like to see it expanded.

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“It’s been useful. I think it can be more useful,” he said during a House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing on May 1. “I would love to see the tool expanded and [authority given] to me as the service acquisition executive.”

Space Systems Command has never confirmed use of the CRWL. Asked  in February whether the service has placed contractors on the list, Calvelli declined to comment.

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He has, however, promoted the use of the tool by acquisition officers. In an October 2022 memo, issued shortly after Calvelli took office, he listed contractor accountability as a key tenet for running successful space acquisition programs.

“Take corrective action and consider all tools available for poor performers, including loss of fee, use of the Contractor Responsibility Watch List and, if necessary, stopping a program,” he wrote. “Industry works for you, so be a demanding customer.”

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Acquisition reform is a major focus for Calvelli, who has on many occasions challenged the Space Force to move faster to develop and acquire systems and called out “long-standing, troubled programs” that are years behind schedule.

Programs he has targeted include the Next-Generation Operational Control Segment, or OCX, an in-demand ground system designed to operate modern GPS satellites; the Advanced Tracking and Launch Analysis System, dubbed ATLAS, a key space command-and-control system; and the Military GPS User Equipment program, MGUE, which is developing cards that enable anti-jam capabilities for GPS receivers.

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Despite pressure from Calvelli to complete development on the efforts by the end of 2023, none of the programs met his delivery target.