Report: National Security Space – Overview of Contracts for Commercial Satellite Imagery (GAO 2022)

Source: GAO

Executive Summary

Commercial remote sensing satellites and the data they produce have transformed the way the U.S. approaches critical national security issues, among other things. Based on recent trends, the commercial space industry is expected to grow significantly in the coming years and therefore may be able to address more of the Intelligence Community's (IC) and Department of 's (DOD) imagery needs. As a starting point, the federal should have good visibility into its current spending and contracts for commercial satellite imagery.

The House Appropriations Committee report that accompanied a bill for the Fiscal Year 2022 DOD appropriations act, included a provision for us to report on contracts related to commercial satellite imagery across the national security community. In its report, the committee expressed concern that the federal government may not be adequately leveraging its buying power to ensure the best value and may not be minimizing the redundancy and duplication of commercial imagery purchases across the government. Subsequently, in July 2022, we issued a classified report on how the DOD and the IC acquire commercial satellite imagery and analytic services that use remote sensing data. In September 2022, we issued an unclassified version of this report. The classified and unclassified versions of the report address most of the reporting provisions for us in House Report 117-88.

The purpose of this correspondence is to provide supplemental information to address the provision in House Report 117-88 not covered in our July 2022 (GAO-22-105072C) or September 2022 (GAO-22-106106) reports. Specifically, this product provides an inventory of contracts across the national security community for commercial satellite imagery. We divided the information into two enclosures: one unclassified enclosure covering 10 civilian federal departments and a classified enclosure covering DOD components, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Central Intelligence Agency. The classified enclosure will be provided to those with the proper clearance and need to know.

To develop the inventory of contracts across the national security community for commercial satellite imagery, we first identified relevant federal departments and agencies. Departments and agencies included are either principal members within the National System for Geospatial Intelligence or federal civilian agencies that support military or humanitarian operations as identified in Joint Publication 2-03, Geospatial Intelligence in Joint Operations, with one exception. We then collected information from agency officials through interviews and follow-up documentation, on their commercial satellite imagery contracts, including the title, type, maximum annual value, period of performance, and mission purpose.

Contracts identified by agency officials in the inventory were either those initiated in fiscal year 2022 or in previous fiscal years, but were still within their period of performance at any point in fiscal year 2022. We included contracts in the inventory where vendors delivered satellite imagery to the government that they had collected from their own commercial capabilities, unless otherwise noted. Additionally, we obtained commercial satellite imagery contract information from all DOD components, including the defense intelligence components, using data DOD collected in 2022 in response to Office of Management and Budget direction and our inquiries. & According to agency officials, DOD data validation steps included having senior leadership from every component verify their information as accurate and complete.

We also reviewed documentation and interviewed DOD officials concerning the methodology the department used to develop their classified inventory. DOD provided in this inventory information on space-based commercial remote sensing capabilities, which included contracts and funding for imagery, analytic, and other services going back to fiscal year 2021. We used the portion of this inventory that covered imagery contracts that were still current in fiscal year 2022. DOD's inventory included information-similar to what we collected from federal civilian agencies on key contract elements: funding agency, title, type, monetary value, period of performance, and mission purpose. We confirmed that the methodology DOD used was sufficient for our purposes.

Summary observations regarding the purchase and use of commercial satellite imagery by 10 federal civilian departments and agencies include:

  • Five of 10 federal civilian departments and agencies Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Interior, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-reported current commercial satellite imagery contracts.° Officials from departments and agencies with contracts cited specific needs for procuring commercial satellite imagery, including needed revisit rates, rapid tasking, resolution, or wavelengths outside of the visible spectrum.
  • All five federal civilian departments and agencies that have commercial imagery contracts during this period have contracts with Planet; three of these five departments and agencies have current contracts with Maxar.
  • NASA reported the largest amount of commercial satellite imagery spending on current contracts for federal civilian departments and agencies. Additionally, NASA officials reported spending a total of $75,657,508 since 2018 across five blanket purchase agreements contracts for commercial satellite imagery that are still current.
  • Excluding NASA and the Department of Energy, other federal civilian departments and agencies reported they have current contracts, which total a maximum annual contract value of $2,067,948.
  • Five departments and agencies did not report current commercial satellite imagery contracts-Homeland Security, Justice, State, Transportation, and Treasury.
  • Eight of 10 departments and agencies reported that they use commercial satellite imagery acquired by the National Reconnaissance Office (NO) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) through their participation in the National System for Geospatial Intelligence or through their access to commercial imagery in GA's Global-GEOINT Enhanced Delivery, a web-hosted service. 10 According to the Department of Interior, 68 federal organizations used this service in fiscal year 2021, including 2,559 individual federal civilian users.

We conducted this effort from May to December 2022, in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.