Congressman Ruppersberger: GEO-INT Prepared Remarks

April 17, 2014

Sharing is Caring


Thank you so much for inviting me to join you for this important event. Each year, GEO-INT brings people together to exchange new ideas. This marks the 10th year for GEO-INT and I am confident there will be many more to come. It is a pleasure to be among so many sharp, innovative minds, which are playing a key role in protecting our country’s national security.

First, I want to thank Keith Masback, the CEO of the Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) and Event Coordinator, Aimee McGranahan. Their leadership in planning this event has been critical to its success.

The House Intelligence Committee handles a number of issues, including the oversight of a group you may have never heard of called the NSA. One of our other priorities is space, so I feel privileged to be among so many space experts here today.

One reason that the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world is because we invest so heavily in space. However, we have a lot of work to do in terms of maintaining our dominance in space.

We must develop a long-term plan in order to stay competitive in space. Today, I will address that plan and its components which include:

  1.   Innovation;
  2.   Showing the public the importance of space;
  3.   STEM Education; and
  4.   Developing a strong private sector.

Long-Term Plan

First, we have achieved many goals in space but at this point, we must ask:  how can we move forward?We need a new long-term plan to set our sight on the horizon of possibility, rather than gazing back on past achievements. Setting goals will allow the U.S. to remain competitive among those working to outpace us, especially our friends in China and Russia.

Part 1 of Long Term Plan:  Innovation

The first part of our long-term plan in space must be using our American ingenuity to stimulate research and development. In particular, there is a need for new American-made rocket engines.

As many of you know, we’re unfortunately dependent upon Russia for their rocket engines.

Last fall, as the conflict in Syria escalated, the Russian government threatened to suspend the sale of these engines to our Government. I’m not a rocket scientist, but it’s easy for me to see the problems associated with our dependence on a country like Russia, with Putin calling the shots.

I believe we should develop a U.S. replacement for the Russian RD-180 engine. As Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, I will push hard this year for funding to build an American engine. We saw Russia flex their leverage before in the midst of the Syria conflict, and they won’t hesitate to do it again.

We can’t allow the Russians to hold our industry hostage. And at the same time, we cannot support any efforts to ban Russian purchases now, before we have an American option. Also, we need a consolidated NASA, DOD, and Intelligence investment strategy for a new propulsion system.

Part 2 of Long Term Plan:  Selling to the American Public

Our country cannot move forward and achieve new goals in space without the support of the American people. That is part 2 of our long term plan.

I know that everyone here understands why space is so important, but I’m concerned that the American people don’t share the same interest. We must work together on getting them there.

After we went to the moon, most of my generation could name every astronaut. How many kids today can name even one?  Compare that with how many can name dozens of NFL quarterbacks.

Why should the American people care about space? Well, it impacts them on a daily basis – even more than they may realize.

We care about satellites because they keep us safe. We use satellites and their images to track suspected terrorists around the world and prevent future attacks. Satellites provide real-time data to our troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and allow us to monitor important global developments. 

We rely on satellites to forecast the weather, to operate our GPS systems, and for Google Maps.

The American public relies on satellites daily, probably without even realizing it. If people do not understand or appreciate the importance of space, then they won’t relay that value to their Members of Congress and space programs could get cut.

Part 3 of Long Term Plan:  STEM Education

So how can we move forward in winning over the American public? One way is by advocating for Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering (STEM) Education. This is part 3 of our long-term plan for space.

By creating STEM Programs in our high schools and colleges, we can show students how fascinating a career in space could be. Right now, the interest in STEM is not as strong as it should be.

We should have astronauts and engineers speaking to STEM students, telling them about their important work and how it impacts our country.

I’m confident that by continuing to develop these programs, we can cultivate that interest.

STEM programs would also help the U.S. to maintain its competitive edge among other countries. Currently, we’re lagging behind other nations in terms of STEM Education. In fact, did you know that China produces nearly seven times as many engineers as the U.S.? Plus, over half of America’s technical degrees go to foreign students here on visas, according to the National Science Foundation.

We have some of the best institutions in the U.S., but our antiquated immigration laws create a problem – many foreign students study here, and then take their degrees back home, sometimes to even countries that are adversaries.

We need to improve our immigration laws in order to encourage these students to use their STEM degrees here in the U.S. What does an effective STEM program look like? Last summer, my staff visited Northrop Grumman’s Cyber Center in Annapolis Junction where they learned about the company’s cutting edge STEM program.

Northrop, along with the Air Force Association, developed “Cyber Patriot,” which is the largest national high school cyber defense competition. The purpose of the program is to generate interest among high school students in the STEM fields.

Northrop also caters to college students, offering them STEM internships. At the start of the internship, students begin the security clearance process and then they typically conclude their internships with a security clearance.   

It is important to point out that Northrop foots the cost of the interns AND their security clearances. The company said that this is a worthy investment because they have a high retention rate of students coming back to work after graduation.

Although the focus of this STEM program is cyber, the point is that Northrop has a great template in place for how to attract and train STEM students for the industries that need qualified talent to keep the U.S. competitive.

Remember, China and Russia are Communist countries, so they can order their students to study STEM. We have a Democracy, so we need to encourage our students to study STEM by cultivating their interest and creating opportunites for them to develop their skills.

Part 4 of Long Term Plan:  Private Sector

Investing in STEM education is one critical factor in remaining competitive in space. Another factor is to develop a thriving private sector. This is part 4 of our long term plan in space.

More than 50 years ago, the U.S. was shocked when Russia launched Sputnik, the world’s first man-made satellite.  The national security ramifications were daunting. The U.S. accepted the Russian challenge. After several failed attempts, America launched the world’s first imagery satellite and the age of Space Base Imagery was born. 

Think back to those days: no one ever dreamed that there would be a commercial market, or that the commercial industry would be so successful. Who could’ve imagined that you could see your house through Google Earth from a satellite 430 miles away?

I want to emphasize that it was government investment that bore this industry. I believe it is time to focus our limited R&D funding on other space-based challenges and let our commercial industry provide the “The Pictures” that government needs.  Government should never be competing with industry.

Unfortunately, today the U.S. cannot put an astronaut on the space station without using a Russian rocket. Our space industry is in a very fragile condition.  How did this happen? During those early years, government R&D drove the critical technologies needed for America’s national security.  Industry was a partner; never a competitor.

Regarding launch, we now have two viable Commercial entities: Orbital Sciences and Space X.  Both have reached the space station. The Air Force has a plan to integrate these efforts into our national security launch process. 

It is just a matter of time (perhaps 3 years) where cost will be the dominate factor. Then we will have a truly competitive launch industry that will compete internationally. The American way is to create competition and drive down price. When we develop an American engine, we won’t ban Russian engines like Putin is threatening to do – we’ll compete with them.

When we are discussing the importance of the private sector in space, we need to address the issue of resolutions restrictions. Most of you know that our commercial system can take far better pictures than those of foreign countries.

Countries like France and India use government investment to develop imagery systems and typically, within 2-years thereafter, these systems are given to their commercial industry to market.

The commercial market thereafter, funds the nation’s imagery system. We have broken that model in the U.S. We need to accelerate our industry’s ability to compete internationally, that includes the marketing of better pictures AND the sale of American-made satellites.

This can only be done by relaxing our commercial resolution restrictions and allowing our industry to sell reasonably sized space telescopes.


Finally, I want to address a very important topic:  The integrity of our Intelligence Community’s workforce. 

The NSA has been under tremendous scrutiny this past year because of an individual who stole classified information and turned his back on his country. He violated his oath, took the stolen information to the press and our adversaries. Then we see Russia offering him asylum – why do you think that is?

Some people call Snowden a hero, but over 90% of the information he stole is military-related. It doesn’t even relate to privacy issues. He put our country and its citizens at great risk. The information he leaked have been mischaracterized in the press, causing the American public to lose faith in some of our national security programs.

Chairman Rogers and I wanted to regain the American public’s trust in our national security tools and that’s why we introduced the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act. Our proposal would end the government’s bulk collection of phone metadata. We would maintain an important capability, but in a targeted way with judicial review.

We believe that our bipartisan efforts have produced a proposal that is a true victory for our country, as it strengthens privacy protections, maintaining the capability our IC needs to protect our country and allies.


There are tremendous challenges in the Intelligence World, but that does not mean they are impossible. I am confident that we can make significant progress by setting ambitious goals and working together to achieve them. That is the purpose of our Long Term Plan for Space.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” 

We must continue to set such ambitious goals and attempt the unprecedented. Other countries have bold goals in space, but we will match and even surpass their ambition. The results could forever change and enhance the American way of life, freedom, liberty, and democracy.

Thank you again for having me join you today. I am happy to take any questions that you have at this time. 


Sharing is Caring

Explore more: GEOINT, Remote Sensing

Geospatial Newsletters

Keep up to date with the latest geospatial trends!

Sign up

Search DM

Get Directions Magazine delivered to you
Please enter a valid email address
Please let us know that you're not a robot by using reCAPTCHA.
Sorry, there was a problem submitting your sign up request. Please try again or email

Thank You! We'll email you to verify your address.

In order to complete the subscription process, simply check your inbox and click on the link in the email we have just sent you. If it is not there, please check your junk mail folder.

Thank you!

It looks like you're already subscribed.

If you still experience difficulties subscribing to our newsletters, please contact us at