A Senate panel approved a bill May 14 that would create an advisory board for the National Reconnaissance Office, likely as a way to encourage innovation and incorporate commercial developments.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence passed the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020. The annual legislation allows Congress to provide oversight of the Intelligence Community and authorize its activities over the next year.

The bill includes language that would establish an advisory board for the National Reconnaissance Office, one of the 17 member organizations of the Intelligence Community. Established in 1961, the NRO oversees the United States’ satellites used for intelligence purposes, providing support to the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community. The advisory board would study innovation, competition and resilience in space, overhead reconnaissance and other issues relating to the NRO mission. Members of the new board would be tasked with advising the director, as well as providing an annual report on its activities to the director and congressional intelligence committees.

The five members of the board would be appointed by the director of the NRO and must have expertise in the mission and function of the agency. Members would be appointed for two-year terms, but could not serve more than three years total on the board. Initial appointments must be made within six months after the law is enacted.

The provision to create an advisory board first appeared in the House version of the Intelligence Authorization Act in 2018, although the language ultimately wasn’t included in the Senate version of the bill. Neither version of the bill was enacted.

While the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has not issued an explanation for the creation of an advisory board, Congress has been concerned about the issue in the past. A House report on the 2018 legislation with the same provision took issue with the NRO’s efforts to work with industry and incorporate innovative commercial technology into its programs.

“While the NRO is one of the more innovative leaders regarding government satellite matters, the NRO also struggles to leverage commercial and government research and development efforts and incorporate them in an effective and timely manner into (programs of record),” reads the House report.

The legislation now awaits approval from the Senate.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

More In Satellites
Unleash the Space Force
Numbers outlining China's military space prowess are understandably alarming, but they don’t tell the whole story, Todd Harrison argues in an op-ed.