Space Command is to move from Colorado to Alabama. But federal investigation finds ‘significant shortfalls’ in that decision

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I-25 snakes through Colorado Springs. May 31, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
I-25 snakes through Colorado Springs. May 31, 2022.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

A federal watchdog says the decision to move Space Command away from Colorado Springs mostly did not follow best practices.

The Air Force’s revised basing process fully or substantially met only 7 of 21 elements of best practices when it came to deciding the permanent home of Space Command — that’s the conclusion of a newly released report by the federal Government Accountability Office.

The GAO has been looking into whether the Defense Department used the right criteria and data when it selected Alabama as the permanent home for Space Command after restarting the basing process in March 2020.

The Command is for now temporarily based in Colorado Springs — but in the waning days of the Trump administration, the decision was announced it would move permanently to Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama. Colorado’s leaders have been lobbying since then to reverse the decision.

The new report may give them new ammunition. 

According to the report, Peterson Space Force Base was the preferred location at the end of the restarted process. One reason was that Space Command could operate there, the Command argued, with less staff, and so would only need to renovate a building, rather than build an entirely new one. That means the command would be able to reach “full operational capability sooner than the six years projected.” Redstone Arsenal was the “lone reasonable alternative.”

Ironically, the report states that then-Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett “wanted to ensure that any decision would stand up to scrutiny and not be reversed. She further stated that she viewed it as her mission to make a fair decision that was not political or based on advocacy, but rather the analytical process and publicly announced criteria.”

But the report found plenty to scrutinize with the new process the Air Force used to select Space Command headquarters: “Our assessment of the Air Force’s revised selection process … identified significant shortfalls in its transparency and credibility.”

The GAO report follows on the heels of one released last month by the Department of Defense’s inspector general that concluded the choice of Alabama was “reasonable” based on the results of the site selection process.

The two reports looked into different things — the Pentagon was concerned with whether proper procedures were followed when officials and President Trump made their choice, while the GAO’s investigation looked into whether the criteria and data points used in the selection process were the right ones to consider.

Taken together, the two reports seem to conclude that while procedures were followed, they were not the best procedures to use.

A controversial decision from day one

The headquarters question has raged since President Trump relaunched Space Command in 2019. The first go-round identified six bases as finalists, four of them in Colorado. But 10 months later, the Air Force announced it was headed back to the drawing board and restarting the process.

Then, when news broke in January 2021 that the Command would move to Redstone Arsenal, Colorado’s leaders were quick with their criticism. 

Some saw the move as Trump rewarding Alabama for supporting him in his re-election campaign, and for its Senators standing by him after the January 6 insurrection. Whereas Colorado voters rejected Trump by a wide margin.

Concerns that the selection was politically motivated were only reinforced when Trump told a syndicated radio show later that year that he was “single-handedly” responsible for the headquarters decision. But the GAO report offered conflicting views on who made the ultimate decision to move the headquarters to Alabama.

At the urging of Colorado’s members of Congress, the Defense Department and the GAO have been pursuing their separate investigations, the results of which have now been released.

In response to Thursday’s report, Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hicknelooper, and Reps. Doug Lamborn and Jason Crow said the basing process “lacked integrity and neglected key national security considerations.”

“The shortcomings of the Space Command basing process are fully available to the Biden Administration. We urge them to review the reports’ findings, and make a decision in consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff that prioritizes our national security and mission in space,” they said in a joint statement. “The American people must be able to trust that this decision is objective and provides for our national security and leadership in space. Peterson remains the only and best home for U.S. Space Command.”