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Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are once again backing a bill to create a Space National Guard, renewing a fight over how the Space Force will manage reserve service members.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Marco Rubuio, R-Fla., introduced the “Space National Guard Establishment Act” on Wednesday, arguing that the estimated 1,000 service members who perform space missions under the Air National Guard should be aligned under the Space Force.
“They should serve under the Space Force with the rest of our space units and fix the organizational disconnect that is undermining their training, resourcing, and recruiting,” Feinstein said in a Wednesday press release. “Leaving the Guard’s space units under the Air Force is shortsighted and undermines our national security, and it must be remedied.”
The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Alex Padilla, John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, as well as Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Marsha Blackburn, Rick Scott and Mike Braun. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Independent from Arizona, also backed the bill. U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
Feinstein and Rubio pushed for the legislation last year, but their bill saw little movement.
While the effort has some early bipartisan momentum, it also comes about two months after Congress asked the Space Force to research the idea of allowing Guardians to serve part-time on active duty in the latest National Defense Authorization Act. That part-time approach has been pitched by Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall as his preferred solution rather than a Guard.
Lawmakers requested the Space Force issue Congress a report by March 1, 2023, on how the idea would work in practice.
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The report would address how the part-time model would foster “career flexibility for reserve members of the Space Component … to move back and forth between active and reserve status for prolonged periods of time across a career,” according to the NDAA text.
Former Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond and Kendall proposed the idea of allowing part-time active-duty service last year, arguing it would be a cost-effective and innovative way to recruit highly talented people from the commercial technology sectors, allowing them to serve their country but also return to their civilian careers.
The National Guard Association, the nonprofit lobbying arm that advocates on behalf of the reserve components, has blasted the idea of the part-time active-duty model, saying it would harm retention efforts while providing fewer opportunities for service members.
John Goheen, the spokesman for the National Guard Association, told Military.com in an interview Friday that the part-time active-duty solution is “a nebulous concept” and said he was encouraged by seeing the diverse group of lawmakers support the new bill.
“We’re talking about putting some of the nation’s most experienced space professionals where they belong,” Goheen told Military.com. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s good for the Guard, it’s good for the nation, and it’s the appropriate thing to do.”
Since the creation of the Space Force in late 2019, there have been several attempts by defense advocates and lawmakers to establish a reserve or National Guard element for the smallest military service branch.
Those efforts have ultimately been stymied, as lawmakers grapple with the costs and logistics of creating another element of the National Guard. President Joe Biden’s White House has also backed the part-time active-duty idea.
The White House Office of Management and Budget issued a statement in 2021 saying it was “strongly opposed” to any efforts to create a Space Guard component, estimating it would increase costs each year by up to $500 million.
That figure has angered National Guard officials, and some outside observers believe the cost could be much less.
There are 14 Air National Guard units with space-related missions located in California, Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Florida, Colorado, Ohio, New York and Guam.
The Adjutants General Association of the United States sent a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee last March saying that moving those 14 Air Force units under Space Force’s command could cost as little as $250,000, with no need to create new facilities.