Alabama Lawmaker Blocks Pentagon Budget Moves to Force Decision on Space Command Basing

Rep. Mike Rogers during House Armed Services Committee hearing
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., speaks during the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Rod Lamkey/Pool via AP)

An Alabama lawmaker is holding up the military's ability to move around budgeted funds and cover funding shortfalls because the Air Force hasn't announced whether U.S. Space Command will be permanently located in his state.

The move by Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, has put the Air Force in a bind as it faces a personnel funding shortfall and looks to extend some deployments and pause some bonuses. Rogers said Friday he is holding up reprogramming requests that could relieve the money woes because the service hasn't confirmed the command's move to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

A final basing decision for the command headquarters, now temporarily located at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado, has languished for the past two and half years -- despite an announcement in the waning days of the Trump administration that Alabama was the preferred location -- as lawmakers wrangle over having the prestige, funding and jobs of a military command in their states.

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Despite telling some news outlets earlier in the week that accusations of him holding up reprogramming requests over the Space Command basing decision were a "misrepresentation of the HASC processes," asked Friday by if that's what he's doing, Rogers replied, "I am."

"All the Air Force has got to do is make an announcement," Rogers said. "I don't care what the announcement is. Make an announcement. They've had 13 months since the inspector general finished reviewing it and said there was no political interference. Make an announcement."

Rogers' decision to hold up reprogramming requests, a move where the Pentagon seeks congressional approval to shuffle around its appropriated funds, comes as the Air Force has announced it is pausing some duty assignments and reenlistment and retention bonuses, as well as extending some deployments due to fears of running out of money in the personnel budget.

By policy and tradition, the Pentagon seeks approval from the leaders of the House and Senate armed services and appropriations committees before moving any money between accounts. But there is no law that requires the department to get approval first, as famously demonstrated when the Trump administration raided Pentagon coffers to fund its border wall despite congressional opposition.

While the Air Force's announcement on personnel shortfalls is the first visible effect of Rogers' hold, hundreds of millions of dollars in reprogramming requests across the military branches are reportedly being delayed, including funding for weapons testing and shipyard maintenance, according to a memo obtained by CQ Roll Call.

Democrats in Colorado's congressional delegation blasted Rogers' move as harmful to service members.

"This legislative hostage-taking is unconscionable and must stop," Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and Reps. Joe Neguse, Diana DeGette, Brittany Pettersen, Yadira Caraveo and Jason Crow said in a joint statement Wednesday. "We urge the Biden administration to make a final Space Command basing decision and believe that any assessment rooted in national security will keep Space Command in Colorado."

But Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Rogers is within his rights to use his power as chairman to force a decision that the Democrat agrees is long overdue.

"I don't blame him," Smith told reporters Thursday. "They've waited way too long to make a decision on this."

A Department of the Air Force official told that there is not a timeline for a final announcement regarding U.S. Space Command headquarters.

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, Alabama, as the preferred location for Space Command's permanent headquarters.

Since that announcement, members of Colorado's congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., 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.

Two watchdog reports, one by the Pentagon's inspector general and another by the Government Accountability Office, requested by members of Colorado's delegation in Congress, 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.

Four months ago, in March, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told 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 at the Air and Space Force 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."

The hold on reprogramming requests is the latest way the Alabama congressional delegation is flexing its muscle to force a decision.

Rogers included a provision in this year's House-passed defense policy bill that would block funding to build out the Space Command headquarters until a final location is announced.

Similar provisions were championed by other Alabama lawmakers and included in the Senate defense policy bill and the House and Senate defense spending bills.

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 significant factor affecting the basing 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, is one of the major differences that has emerged during the debate over the headquarters.

The Pentagon's new leave policy allowing service members to more easily travel to other states to obtain abortions from civilian medical providers has come into another Alabama lawmaker's sights. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R- Ala., has single-handedly delayed hundreds of military promotions over the issue, though he has been careful not to connect his blockade to the Space Command basing fight.

But his hold on military promotions is directly affecting Space Command. This week, President Joe Biden named the Space Force's Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting to be promoted to the leader of the command.

Tuberville's political move makes it unclear when the Space Force officer will be approved for his next post.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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

Related: Lawmakers Pressure Air Force to Finally Make Space Command HQ Basing Decision

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