Watchdog Validates Decision to Move Space Command But Says Officials Didn't Keep Adequate Records

U.S. Space Command is introduced.
In this Aug. 29, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump watches with Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary Mark Esper as the flag for U.S. Space Command is unfurled as Trump announces the establishment of the U.S. Space Command in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster/AP File Photo)

When the Air Force announced plans to move U.S. Space Command from Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama's Redstone Arsenal last year, Colorado lawmakers immediately demanded an investigation.

The state's delegation in Washington was alarmed at the move of the command and its 1,400  jobs and millions in funding to Alabama, and the lawmakers asked the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, as well as the Pentagon's Inspector General's Office, to make sure nothing unethical was at play.

In a newly released inspector general's report, the Pentagon watchdog said that, while the selection process was marred by shoddy record keeping, the ultimate decision to choose Huntsville was "reasonable."

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The report, published Tuesday, is not the bombshell that opponents of the move hoped it would be after alleging that former President Donald Trump's decision to move U.S. Space Command was politically motivated and a waste of resources. 

"We determined that, overall, the basing action process directed by the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) complied with Federal law and DoD policy," the inspector general's report said. 

Many Colorado lawmakers had been briefed on the GAO's unreleased findings and have teased them at various committee hearings on Capitol Hill. But most had not publicly commented on the Pentagon's investigation. 

After the report was made public, Colorado's U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper released a joint statement saying they believe the selection of a new site wasn't adequately thorough. 

"Our position remains that the previous administration used a basing process for U.S. Space Command that was untested, lacked transparency, and neglected critical national security and cost considerations," the senators said in an emailed statement. "Space Command should remain permanently based at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado."

This past August, former President Trump stoked concerns that he had short-circuited the selection process when he called into a local radio show in Alabama. 

"Space force -- I sent to Alabama," Trump told the "Rick&Bubba" radio show. "I hope you know that. [They] said they were looking for a home, and I single-handedly said, 'Let's go to Alabama.' They wanted it. I said, 'Let's go to Alabama. I love Alabama.'"

U.S. Space Command -- SPACECOM -- was reactivated in August 2019, before the Space Force became the military's sixth service branch later that year. SPACECOM is responsible for military operations related to space, while the Space Force organizes and trains space personnel.

The inspector general's report reviewed the process for how Redstone Arsenal became a finalist and, ultimately, won out over five other finalist locations: Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska; Patrick Air Force Base, Florida; Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado; and Kelly Field at Port San Antonio, Texas.

Air Force officials' process for determining an ideal base location was inspired by the Army's process for choosing Austin, Texas, for Army Futures Command in 2018. 

They "used publicly available data, incorporated site visits conducted by the Basing Office personnel, and provided periodic status updates to Congress," to make their determinations, according to the report. 

The inspector general determined that criteria used for selecting the site "were a reasonable and objective means of assessing, scoring, and ranking the candidate locations for hosting the USSPACECOM HQ," according to the report.

Alabama lawmakers, such as Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, celebrated the IG reports findings Wednesday. 

"It's a positive," Shelby told "We've always thought that that was a meritorious thing; the Air Force has said that and the IG's confirmed it."

Space Command will be relocated pending the findings of an environmental impact study sometime next year. The location is expected to be home to 1,400 personnel.

Bennet and Hickenlooper believe there is more investigating to do and said in a statement that they "are reviewing the findings of the report, and will have more to share in the coming days."

Colorado is currently home to several military installations, including Buckley, Peterson and Schriever Space Force Bases. 

It's also the temporary home to STARCOM -- Space Training and Readiness Command -- which is in charge of education and training for future Space Force Guardians. All three Space Force bases in Colorado are finalists for the command headquarters. 

Retired Air Force Col. Bill Woolf, the president and founder of the Colorado Springs nonprofit Space Force Association, which works to promote public awareness about the service, said that the inspector general's report shouldn't change much for military leaders in the state. 

Only a few states have Space Force bases, and Colorado has the most. Woolf said lawmakers should focus on supporting those as best they can. 

"Our job is to support Guardians wherever they're located," Woolf said. "This means Colorado can focus on the service commands for the Space Force that are here."

 -- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

-- Rebecca Kheel contributed to this report.

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