A U.S. senator is begging President Joe Biden's administration to reverse a 2021 decision to relocate U.S. Space Command from Colorado to Alabama, saying moving the headquarters would delay operations and harm national security.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., gave an impassioned floor speech Wednesday criticizing the decision to move Space Command's headquarters, a process which has been underway since the waning days of President Donald Trump's administration. Moving the command from Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama, would cause further delays in setting up a permanent headquarters as tensions continue to rise with China, he argued.
"We cannot let China or Russia set the rules of the road for space in the 21st century," Bennet posted on Twitter prior to his speech. "America has to lead, and we don't have time to waste."
Space Command, which is responsible for military operations related to space, was reactivated in August 2019 and temporarily run from Peterson.
In January 2021, during the last days of the Trump administration, the Department of the Air Force selected the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville as the preferred location for Space Command's permanent headquarters.
Since that announcement, members of Colorado's congressional delegation in Washington have been fighting to have the decision reviewed in hopes of keeping the base, as well as 1,400 jobs and millions of dollars of economic impact, in their home state.
But Bennet argued on the Senate floor Wednesday that his fight to reverse the decision goes beyond wanting to protect assets in his home state. He said keeping the headquarters in Colorado will allow it to reach full operational capacity sooner amid rising tensions with competitors.
"I'm on the floor today to remind people here of the importance of this issue, the urgency of this issue, not just for Colorado, not even for Colorado, but for the country as a whole and for our national security as a whole," he said. "That in the end is what the American people deserve here, because our opponents and our competitors in space are not waiting for us to get out of our own way."
In August 2021, while speaking on an Alabama radio show, Trump said the move was his decision, which sparked speculation that the former president may have intervened in the process for choosing the base, something that could give ammunition to legal challenges.
"Space Force -- I sent to Alabama," Trump told the "Rick & Bubba" radio show at the time. "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.'"
Two watchdog reports, requested by members of Colorado's delegation in Washington, followed. They did not point to any major issues with Huntsville as a location for the base, but did scrutinize the process for choosing the location.
This past May, the findings of a Department of Defense inspector general report said that, while the selection process was marred by shoddy recordkeeping, the ultimate decision to choose Huntsville was "reasonable."
And in June, the Government Accountability Office released a report saying that Space Command's move from Colorado to Alabama was driven by an unorganized and unclear process. While that report did not comment on or analyze whether the choice of Huntsville as the home of Space Command was acceptable, the congressional watchdog organization did express concerns about "significant shortfalls in its transparency and credibility," as well as the "appearance of bias" in the decision.
The GAO report did not address whether Trump, or any senior military official, was responsible for the ultimate selection of Redstone Arsenal.
But Bennet still took swipes at Trump during his floor speech and urged Biden to keep Space Command in Colorado.
"I think it is fair to say that we are here not representing the parochial interests of our state, but representing the national security interests in the United States and the incredible importance of this Biden administration not ratifying a political decision that was made in the last few days of the Trump administration because decisions of this importance shouldn't be made this way," Bennet said. "They should be made in the interest of our national security."
Last month, Bennet threatened to hold up nominees for the Pentagon's top positions because Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had declined to meet and discuss the Space Command decision.
After voting against Biden's nominee for assistant secretary of defense for energy and installations, Bennet's office has since been in communication with the Pentagon.
An environmental study, one of the final steps required before the decision can be finalized, has been completed. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall will give the ultimate approval, which department officials have said for months is coming soon.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.