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Watchdog Group Slams Space Spending Spree

U.S. government spending on unclassified satellites and space programs is out of control and soared 42 percent to $16.9 billion in fiscal 2009 from $11.9 billion in 2005, the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense said on Tuesday.

The group, which compiled the first independent database of federal space programs, said billions of dollars in space-related programs for national security were spread over the three military services and other agencies with no central authority to track spending.

"Without this bird's-eye view on spending, those who determine our space and national security policy — in the White House, on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon — do not have a crucial tool for setting spending priorities," said the group.

Taxpayers for Common Sense said a transparent, accountable budget was important given the troubled history of space programs that are "so far over budget and behind schedule that many of them still have not deployed after many years and billions of dollars."

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The report identified 12 programs with cost growth of more than 200 percent in the past five years.

Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. are the top three U.S. defense contractors to the Pentagon, and they also dominate space programs.

In addition to billions spent on unclassified programs, analysts estimate the government spends another $10 billion on secret satellite and other space programs, further compounding the oversight problem.

Laura Peterson, senior policy analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense, said an expected satellite launch by North Korea may be used to justify more spending on missile defense, which U.S. officials and lawmakers have said will likely face cuts in the Obama administration's fiscal 2010 budget.

"But North Korea's actions should not be seen as a pretext to conduct business as usual at an agency with a history of serious cost, schedule and performance problems," she said. "Both space and missile defense spending suffer from a lack of budgetary discipline, timely accomplishment and clear policy priorities indefensible in today's economic climate."

The new database showed more than 20 percent of military-related space spending now comes from agencies outside the Pentagon, such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For instance, Northrop is building a group of new weather-forecasting satellites under a program that is run jointly by the Pentagon, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

One of the fastest growing areas is "space control" or projects that protect existing U.S. satellites and space assets. Unclassified space control programs rose 37 percent over the past five years to nearly $1 billion in fiscal 2009, the report said.

Within that overall account, spending on "space situational awareness," an area that has benefited from many congressional earmarks since the 2007 destruction by China of one of its own satellites, was up 35 percent to $560 million.