Lawmakers find billions to save in spy satellite purchases

The House Intelligence Committee wants to change the way the government buys spy satellites.

On Thursday, the panel unanimously approved a new report suggesting ways the government could save billions of dollars in its purchases of intelligence satellites, which it sent to the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the federal agency that manages spy satellites.  

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While most of the report is classified, leaders of the panel said that it “pinpoints specific areas” where the intelligence community “can improve its purchase of these important systems.”

“It is critical that we find the right balance of capability and cost effectiveness,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said in a joint statement. “We must always be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and take a hard look at the way we purchase very expensive satellites systems.”

“Our overhead capabilities are vital to America’s national security,” they added.

One area where the government can improve, they said, was the pace of satellite purchases.

Intelligence agencies buy more satellites than they need in order to keep the market for producing them stable. Buying at a slower pace could also lead to higher prices per satellite. That’s not a valid concern, however, the lawmakers concluded in their report, and amounts to a waste of taxpayer money.

In one case, the report found that the NRO could save $2.5 billion by slowing down the pace of satellite purchases and buying two fewer satellites.