Nominee Defends Ending Programs

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

Donald M. Kerr, the Bush administration's nominee to be principal deputy director of national intelligence, said yesterday that as director of the National Reconnaissance Office over the two past years, he recommended ending two multibillion-dollar secret intelligence satellite contracts because he believed they could not be successfully completed.

Kerr, who has had held senior positions in the CIA, the FBI and the Energy Department -- where he was director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory -- spoke at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. If confirmed, he would be top deputy to Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence. The No. 2 job has been vacant since May 2006, when Gen. Michael V. Hayden resigned to become CIA director.

Asked why he accepted the nomination, which others had turned down with only a year-and-a-half left in the Bush administration, Kerr said, "At the end of the day, in all honesty, I could not continue to be on the outside expressing views when the proper thing to do was to try to see if, by joining other seasoned professionals, we could make this thing work," referring to the still relatively new Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Although both the House and Senate intelligence committees have discussed problems with secret satellite programs in their reports on intelligence funding bills, yesterday's hearing was the first time the matter was discussed publicly.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), vice chairman of the panel, raised the issue, saying as the session opened that there would be a closed session questioning "missteps at the NRO" before Kerr arrived two years ago that resulted in the loss of "an astronomical amount of dollars."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) asked Kerr about the cancellation of "two huge classified programs" that resulted in "a lot of money that has gone down the drain." Without naming the programs, Nelson described them as "two programs [that] represented significant new acquisitions undertaken by the NRO and they were touted by NRO as examples of excellence and industry ingenuity -- and both of them failed."

One program has been reported as the Misty satellite program, which was to have stealth qualities so it could not be tracked from Earth. The other has never been fully identified.

Kerr said that one of the programs was already under technical review when he recommended its cancellation. He said part of the problem was that the requirements for what the satellite had to do kept growing, so that "we had a system that could not be manufactured by normal human beings."

Asked whether anyone at the NRO or with the contracting firm was held accountable, Kerr said the program manager was removed, and "leadership at the prime contractor was removed." In addition, the contractor has been put on a "watch list," which means that the company can bid on new work only if granted a waiver.

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