WASHINGTON -- The top-secret agency that manages U.S. spy satellites, accused of secretly hoarding more than $1 billion in unspent funds, said it never spent a cent on an unauthorized project.
In a statement Sunday night [Sept 24], the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) said its mission -- buying and operating the nation's orbiting listening posts -- typically involved large projects spanning more than one budget year.
Once aloft, satellites sometimes outlast their planned lifespans, creating savings that can result in a budget surplus in a given fiscal year, the agency said.
"Because of the multi-year process of building these sophisticated systems, savings in one year are often requird in future years to deliver the planned capability of the overall space reconnaissance architecture," it said.
"However, in no instance does the NRO use these surplus funds for activities that have not been approved by the congressional oversight committees," the agency added.
NBC's "Nightly News" Monday cited intelligence sources as saying the office may have overordered $10 billion to $15 billion worth of spy satellites and rockets, including Lacrosse radar-imaging satellites which "see" through heavy clouds.
NBC said the equipment was in storage since it was not needed now.
White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said Sunday it was "inexcusable" that the NRO had accumulated a hoard without keeping congressional and Pentagon overseers aware of the cash buildup from year to year.
"It certainly appears that something went wrong when an agency hoards this kind of money," Panetta said on the CNN program "Late Edition." "For this to happen, I think, is inexcusable."
In its statement, the NRO acknowledged that complaints from members of Congress had led CIA Director John Deutch to order an investigation of its finances, restructure management and tighten procedures.
Deutch ordered a complete review of the NRO's budget submission for next year, appointed a new officer to strengthen financial management and created a board to assure "tighter program management" of military and intelligence satellite programs, the NRO said.
The unspent funds were discovered after the Senate Intelligence Committee questioned spending on a new $347 million headquarters that the NRO was building in northern Virginia, near Dulles International Airport.
Original file name: .CNI - NRO Hordes $Billion 9.28
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