Lawmakers are dialing up pressure on the Air Force to make a final decision about the permanent home for U.S. Space Command as service officials drag on deliberations that have existed since the Trump administration.
In a pair of must-pass bills released this week, House lawmakers would freeze funding for building out the Space Command headquarters, which is temporarily being housed at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The language was pushed by powerful Alabama lawmakers who want the Air Force to stick with its preliminary decision to move the headquarters to their home state.
The House Armed Services Committee's draft of the sweeping annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, released Monday, would pause construction spending on the temporary headquarters until a final location is announced and justified. Additionally, half of Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall's travel budget would be cut until the location of the permanent headquarters is reported to Congress.
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee also added language into its separate 2024 military construction funding bill that would similarly bar funding from being used on Space Command's headquarters until a final decision is made. The accompanying, nonbinding bill report also calls on Kendall to "announce a decision expeditiously."
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee who wrote the NDAA draft, was concerned that Space Command has been building infrastructure and signing new leases in Colorado while the final decision is pending, a congressional aide told reporters Monday evening.
"The chairman wants the Air Force to make a decision. They keep telling us, 'We're close, we're soon,'" the aide said on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Armed Services Committee.
"The chairman's view is why should you be using taxpayer dollars to build up all this infrastructure when the Air Force made a decision. It has been reviewed by two different reviewers and found that Huntsville, Alabama, won and won fairly," the aide added.
Meanwhile, the amendment to the separate military construction appropriations bill was championed by a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala. The language is intended to "incentivize" Kendall to make a decision "as quickly as possible," he said during the committee's consideration of the bill Tuesday.
Kendall said in response to a Military.com question at the Air and Space Forces Association's conference in Colorado in March that the final decision will come "fairly soon" but further analysis is needed.
"I hoped to make a decision and make an announcement earlier," Kendall said during a roundtable discussion at the Air and Space Forces Association's Air Warfare Symposium. "We're doing some additional analysis. We want to make very sure we got this right and have a well-defended decision."
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.
As that decision has languished for two and a half years, the fight over whether the HQ should move to Huntsville or remain in Colorado Springs has become increasingly political. Notably, the Supreme Court's ruling last year to overturn Roe v. Wade -- known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization -- has also been viewed as a potential factor impacting the decision, according to Colorado and Alabama lawmakers.
Moving Space Command from Colorado, where abortion access is unrestricted, to Alabama, where it is illegal with limited exceptions, has raised concerns.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., told Military.com in an August interview that a potential move of U.S. Space Command to Alabama concerns him for a variety of reasons, but among them is the impact the Supreme Court's ruling has on service members who have to relocate.
"I'm deeply concerned about how the Dobbs decision and state abortion bans will affect Space Command's workforce and readiness if the command leaves Colorado," Bennet said in an emailed statement.
Most recently, in March, Bennet alongside 36 Senate colleagues issued a statement "to consider abortion access in major personnel and basing decisions."
But the Department of the Air Force told Military.com in an emailed statement last week that state laws regarding abortion or LGBTQ+ communities are not a factor considered by the service when deciding where to place bases.
"Reproductive health care and state laws regarding the LGBTQ+ community are not currently part of the criteria considered in the Department of the Air Force strategic basing process," a department spokesperson told Military.com. "However, the Department of the Air Force recognizes that various laws and legislation are being proposed and passed in states across America that may affect reproductive health care and LGBTQ+ airmen, Guardians, and/or their dependents in different ways."
The spokesperson added that the department has worked to "inform and educate our members on the assignment [and] medical, legal and other resources available to support airmen, Guardians and their families."
Pentagon policies that allowed service members to more easily travel to other states to obtain abortions have come into the crosshairs of Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. Tuberville has single-handedly delayed hundreds military promotions over the issue, though he has been careful not to connect his blockade to the Space Command basing fight.
The Space Command decision has been under intense scrutiny since shortly after President Donald Trump's announcement.
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. The reports did not point to any major issues with Huntsville as a location for the base, but did scrutinize the process for choosing the location.
In May, the findings of a Defense Department 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.
Meetings that Space Command chief Gen. James Dickinson held last week with the Alabama and Colorado congressional delegations did little to quell the fight.
Alabama lawmakers contend Dickinson confirmed the command "belongs on Redstone Arsenal," while the Colorado delegation said he "emphasized that he has no preference in the headquarters location nor is it his responsibility to make a final basing decision."
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