Monday, January 16, 2017

The REAL Funding Opportunity Behind the Upcoming Canadian Space Agency "Long-Term Strategy"

          By Chuck  Black

Want to know why a "long-term strategy" for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is expected to be announced in June 2017?

Influential in 2012 but do their conclusions still matter in 2017? Emerson Aerospace Review advisory council members Sandra PupatelloDavid Emerson, Jim Quick and Jacques Roy in 2012. Photo c/o Aerospace Review

That's easy. The CSA's "key strategic priorities," need to be defined, assessed and costed out before the next CSA "five year investment plan" is approved in 2018 - 2019. The time-frame for those decisions were made in 2014, based on the findings of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review.

At least that's the story you get when reading the June 2015 Audit on Governance Report (Project #14/15 01-13), which was posted on the CSA website in February 2016 and the June, 2016 follow-up report under the title Management Action Plans Follow-up for Internal Audit Annual Report as of March 31st, 2016, which was posted on the CSA website on November 18th, 2016.

Both documents were created to measure Federal compliance with the second volume of the 2012 Aerospace Review, an arms length, independent assessment of the Canadian aerospace and space industry. The review was mostly (although not completely) adapted as Federal policy by both the current Justin Trudeau Liberal government and the previous Stephen Harper Conservative government.

As outlined in the June 2015 report:
2014 was a turning point for the organization (the CSA), when a large number of new structures and procedures were established in order to implement the recommendations set out in the report entitled Aerospace Review, Reaching Higher: Canada's Interests and Future in Space, November 2012 (volume two of the David Emerson led Aerospace Review). 
Although it is acknowledged that these new structures and procedures will still require some adjustment over time, they are nonetheless the basis for a new governance framework, the objective of which is to strengthen the oversight of CSA activities, improve decision-making and accountability reporting procedures, and more effectively fulfill the expectations of CSA stakeholders.
CSA president Sylvain Laporte outlined Canadian initiatives at the Heads of Agency Plenary, which took place during the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2016) in Guadalajara, Mexico from September 26th - 30th, 2016. Was the June 2015 Audit used as a guide for the current CSA president, who assumed office in April 2015? Video c/o IAC 2016.

Those new structures and procedures were designed to gain control over CSA finances and programs plus provide for stakeholder and public input into funding decisions. They included:
  • Three committees tasked with coordinating the Federal government's space focused priorities and requirements, including those originating with other government departments. They included the Deputy Ministers' Governance Committee on Space (DMGCS), which is co-chaired by a deputy minister and the CSA president; the Assistant Deputy Ministers' Space Program Integration Board (ADMSPIB) and the Director Generals' Space Program Integration Board (DGSPIB).
The plan defined the CSA president's responsibilities as being essentially equal to that of a deputy minister, since both would be needed to co-chair the DMGCS. 

Taken together, the committees were responsible for the fiscal and scientific aspects of developing five year fiscal and operating plans, which would allow the CSA to develop long-term, multi-year programs and partnerships with some assurance that money would continue to flow in a predictable manner.

The release of the February 2014 "Canada's Space Policy Framework," was considered to be one of the "noteworthy achievements of 2014," according to the June 2015 Audit. The summary of recommendations (Section 1.4) also listed the "adoption of a five-year investment plan (2014-2015 to 2018-2019), in accordance with Treasury Board of Canada policy, that will demonstrate how the CSA intends to soundly manage public funds over the next five years," plus "the adoption of by the CSA Executive Committee on February 5, 2014, of a new investment governance and monitoring framework and the implementation of procedures to improve investment oversight," and the "setting up of several new committees." Screenshot c/o CSA.

But the resulting structure also tied the CSA to a level of oversight more appropriate to its role as a subsidiary of a larger government department, rather than as the stand-alone ministry with direct access to the prime minister. Many, both inside and outside the CSA, considered the stand-alone ministry to be the most effective structure for the CSA to embrace.

Be that as it may, the first five year investment plan rolled out in 2014-15 and is set to expire in 2018-2019. The CSA, under current president Sylvain Laporte, is operating as a well supervised department within ISED.

Here's where it gets interesting.

Bureaucracies, full of appointed state officials focused on their job description and long-term job security, tend to act in predictable ways. They set up a reporting structure so as to minimize errors and diffuse responsibilities so that no one gets fired when problems occur.

But the reporting structure also need programs to fund and funding to oversee in order to justify their continued existence. That's why the Federal government will announce a "long-term strategy" for space in June 2017, just before it's scheduled to approve and supervise the next "five year investment plan" in 2018.

So there is an opportunity for new funding when the next five year fiscal plan is finalized in 2018.

How will the CSA differentiate itself from the growing private space sector? As outlined in the August 28th, 2015 Macleans post, "13 great Canadian space ideas," Canada's future in space includes the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), RADARSAT Constellation (RCM), the Medium Earth Orbit Search and Rescue (MEOSAR) space-born transceivers and a few other possible rover missions and satellite programs. Not that there is anything wrong with that, unless you look at the November 20th, 2016 post, "SpaceX, Telesat & Kepler Just Three of the Dozen Satellite Constellations Currently on the FCC Table," which discussed the thousands of satellites planned for launch by a dozen private companies over the next five years and the October 3th, 2016 post, "Sixteen Organizations Currently Developing Small-Sat Launchers," which outlined the wealth of private organization building their own rockets. Screenshot c/o Macleans

However, given the general nature of the typical bureaucracy and the specifics of the various CSA committees and reporting structures as outlined in both the June 2015 Audit and its June 2016 follow-up, any new CSA funding will likely be variations or additions to existing programs.

After all, the structure is set up specifically for control and not for innovation.

Of course, we should certainly begin lobbying the Federal government now, if we want to make sure that space is left for our own personal projects when the new policy comes down in June 2017.

We just shouldn't expect too much for our efforts.

The Federal government could potentially end up funding some variation of a revived Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) mission which, as outlined in the July 17th, 2016 post, "The Polar Communications & Weather Satellite (PCW) Mission is Dead; To Revive it, our Military Wants More Money," is currently undergoing intense lobbying/ restructuring within various government departments.

But we likely won't end up with funding for any major projects which aren't already on the horizon.   

The best things about politics are that no experience (or intelligence) is required and anyone can play. As outlined in the September 15th, 2016 post, "Part 1: Abandoning the Emerson Aerospace Review," both the Liberals and the NDP vowed to create a new "long-term space plan" during the last election, in an effort to differentiate themselves from the incumbent Conservative party. The Conservatives, way too wrapped up in secrecy,  failed to release any documentation during the election which would suggest that they might travel down much the same path as the other parties, if re-elected. Such documentation was certainly available. The June 2015 Audit on Governance was finally released by the incoming Liberal party in February 2016, just after the Federal election in October 2015. Screenshot c/o Commercial Space blog.

Taken together, both the June 2015 Audit on Governance Report and its June, 2016 follow-up report provide much context to questions about how (or "if") the Emerson Aerospace Review would ever influence public policy.

Those questions even surfaced in the mainstream media when the Canadian space program, as outlined in the October 11th, 2015 CBC News post, "Canada's space policy enters orbit of election campaign," briefly became a political issue during the last Federal election.

Is this the space agency Canada wants? Maybe. Maybe not.

But it does seem to be the space agency our current Federal government prefers. It makes the CSA well enough behaved to avoid feeding the opposition uncomfortable questions when parliament is in session. 
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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