WASHINGTON – The Air Force has assured Sen. Martin Heinrich that the Operationally Responsive Space Office at Kirtland Air Force Base will remain at Kirtland Air Force Base at least until the end of the 2014 fiscal year, prompting Heinrich on Monday to drop his legislative hold on President Obama’s Air Force secretary nominee.
The New Mexico Democrat also said he plans to vote to confirm Deborah Lee James’ nomination.
Heinrich told the Journal he put a hold on James’ nomination last week over the Operationally Responsive Space Office at Kirtland, which employs about 100 military, government civilians and contractors. The office, commonly referred to as ORS, was established at Kirtland in May 2007 to quickly develop and field small, less-expensive satellites that can be of immediate use to combat commanders.
Heinrich and other members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation were concerned that the Air Force was aiming to dismantle the program and fold it into the Space and Missile System Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base. Heinrich said he put his hold on James’ nomination to get the Air Force’s attention on the issue.
“I wanted an opportunity to engage with the nominee and the current interim secretary before we went for a floor vote on her nomination,” Heinrich said. “We had a very constructive dialogue. She was very responsive and said she would get interim Secretary Eric Fanning to come down and work with, us and that happened last week.”
In a letter to Heinrich dated Sept. 27 and obtained by the Journal , Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas W. Bergeson said the Air Force is committed to ORS.
“The Air Force is committed to ORS concepts and will continue to work on a strategic plan, which will incorporate ORS concepts across the space portfolio,” Bergeson wrote, adding that the program would remain at Kirtland, at least through the 2014 fiscal year.
The senator said moving the program to California would not save the Air Force money, as some believed.
“It would end up costing money,” he said. “There is a fundamentally different culture and approach that takes place within ORS. I think what the Air Force wanted to do was move it under the California office, and I think what would have happened is everyone would have reverted to big satellites that are really expensive and take a long time to build.
“What we want to do is make sure there’s a culture of being able to respond incredibly quickly with sort of a plug-and-play approach, and keeping those offices separate is the right way to do that,” Heinrich said.