The fight for Space Command Headquarters is not over. That was the message from Alabama lawmakers at a House Armed Services committee hearing Thursday that looked at how the Biden administration made the decision to keep the Command in Colorado.
Committee Chair, Mike Rogers of Alabama, said he’d use Congress’ power of the purse to stop funds from going to build a permanent headquarters in Colorado Springs, in order to force the Pentagon to return to its previous plan of locating it in Huntsville.
Rogers also said he’d take a page from Colorado lawmakers and ask the Defense Department Inspector General to investigate the decision.
The hearing often felt like a lopsided fight. While Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Space Command Commander Gen. James Dickinson defended the decision to name Peterson Space Force Base as the permanent headquarters on operational grounds, all three Alabama lawmakers, two Republicans and one Democrat, worked to paint it as a political decision. They were aided by other Republicans on the committee who also asked about abortion policy or other social issues.
It fell to GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn, the only Coloradan on the panel currently, to defend the decision from the dais.
He took issue with the claim made by many of his colleagues that Colorado Springs placed lower in the Pentagon’s ranking potential of headquarter locations than Huntsville.
Lamborn pointed out that the decision matrix was updated on January 10, 2021, to include mission impacts to full operational capability.
“With this updated fifth category, they came to a different conclusion,” Lamborn said. “This assessment supports the selection of Colorado Springs as the preferred alternative and Huntsville as the feasible alternative.”
The Colorado Springs representative went on to say that additional criteria should have been included from the start.
Still, Rogers disputed the argument that Colorado was selected because the Command could more rapidly reach readiness and full operational capability there.
“Let me be clear, this is not and has never been about readiness,” he said, going on to quote the military officals’s past statements. “There is no justification for these actions except political considerations. It is indefensible to turn the fifth place finisher into the winner of a basing competition.”
Several GOP lawmakers on the panel pointed out that Colorado is a blue state with Democratic Senators and a Democratic governments, while others brought up the state’s abortion laws as reasons for the move. Still, they were unable to offer evidence that either factor influenced the administration’s selection.
Both Kendall and Dickinson said they supported the Biden administration’s decision. Kendall said he was asked by the Secretary of Defense to review concerns expressed by senior military leaders regarding full operational capability in May 2022.
“There have been three core assumptions underpinning this basing action: the need for a 464,000 square foot facility, a workforce of 1,450 people and new construction of a permanent headquarters building,” Kendall said. “All six locations were reasonable alternatives, but Huntsville was lower cost, while remaining Colorado posed the lowest operational risk under any circumstances.”
Dickinson said staying in Colorado “will further enable a command to maintain mission readiness at the highest levels, while imposing the least disruption to the force.” He later added that when they started looking at the transition, there were concerns that people, in particular the civilian workforce, currently working in Colorado Springs would not want to make the move to Huntsville.
There was one point of agreement that spanned both sides of the aisle and unified the Colorado and Alabama delegations: this basing process has been flawed from the beginning.
In 2019, the Air force started the standard basing process, but former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Trump Administration changed the process in 2020.
“This started out very non-standard,” Kendall told the panel. “This is nothing like a normal basing decision as far as I'm concerned.”
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