Acting Pentagon chief says he hasn't 'walked through' Space Force proposal with skeptical Dem chairman

Acting Pentagon chief says he hasn't 'walked through' Space Force proposal with skeptical Dem chairman
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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Top nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April MORE said he has not yet spoken about the Trump administration’s "Space Force" proposal with the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who in recent days threw cold water on the concept.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Wednesday, Shanahan said he hasn’t “walked through the proposal” with Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One House panel approves 3B defense policy bill House panel approves 3B defense policy bill MORE (D-Wash.), but added that, in general, conversations on Capitol Hill have found agreement on the military threats in space.

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“The feedback I’ve received is worry about adding, building bigger government,” Shanahan added. “That part has been universal, and I don’t blame them.”

Shanahan is scheduled to testify next Tuesday before the House Armed Services Committee, where he is sure to get questions on Space Force.

Last week, Smith indicated his committee would not follow the White House plan for Space Force, saying it’s “too expensive and creates more bureaucracy.”

“I cannot imagine that what they proposed is going to happen,” Smith said.

Earlier in CSIS’s space forum on Wednesday, Rep. Jim CooperJames (Jim) Hayes Shofner CooperHouse panel OKs space military branch House panel OKs space military branch Overnight Defense: Officials approved sending Saudis nuclear technology after Khashoggi killing | Space Command pick warns of challenges ahead | Lawmakers clash over bill blocking low-yield nukes MORE (D-Tenn.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee’s subpanel in charge of space, expressed optimism the chamber would pass some sort of Space Force plan this year. He sidestepped questions about specific changes the House might make to the administration’s proposal, however.

Noting the proposal the Pentagon sent to Congress was close to an idea the House passed in 2017, Cooper said “the prospects could hardly be brighter” for the House to pass something.

The Pentagon in February delivered Congress its legislative proposal to make President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE’s proposed Space Force a reality. Unlike Trump’s original pledge to have the service be “separate but equal” from the Air Force, the final proposal calls for Space Force to remain under the Department of the Air Force in a structure similar to the Marine Corps’s relationship to the Navy.

That proposal closely mirrors the House’s 2017 idea for a space corps, which the lower chamber approved as part of the National Defense Authorizations Act but was scuttled during negotiations with the Senate.

On Wednesday, Cooper said Trump’s original idea was “over the top,” but called the one actually sent to Congress “way more modest.”

“In fact, it’s about as close to our original House proposal as you can get,” Cooper added.

Asked about Smith’s comments and what changes the committee might make, Cooper did not answer directly.

“My guess is from the administration’s standpoint, they mainly care that we call it a Space Force, whatever we’re doing,” Cooper said.

Asked by The Hill after the panel whether he and Smith have talked about specific changes, Cooper said “no” and that he has yet to review the full budget proposal since the justification books were just released this week.

“I will see the budget book when [my aide] hands it to me right here,” Cooper said as an aide handed him a binder. “This is how late the process is.”

The Pentagon has requested an initial $72.4 million for fiscal 2020 to set up the service’s headquarters and is projecting it will cost a total $2 billion over five years to launch the service.

During the panel, Cooper called the $2 billion projection a “vast improvement” over the Air Force’s initial estimate of a $13 billion cost, which he said he thought was inflated. He also called $2 billion “chicken feed” when compared with an overall defense budget proposal of $750 billion. 

“We’re well within the ballpark of a reasonable compromise here,” he said.