Alabama Chairman Releases Hold on Air Force Personnel Funds, But Space Command Standoff Continues

Rep. Mike Rogers speaks at the House Armed Services Committee.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., speaks during the House Armed Services Committee 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)

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is allowing the Air Force to move around funds to cover shortfalls in personnel costs, but other efforts to shuffle Defense Department funding remain caught up in an increasingly contentious fight over whether Space Command will be headquartered in the lawmaker's home state.

After Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., told last week he was holding up military reprogramming requests over the Air Force's much delayed decision on where to base U.S. Space Command, a committee spokesperson said Wednesday that the lawmaker has now allowed requests related to personnel funding to go through.

The spokesperson, Justine Sanders, added that the committee "continues to review additional reprogramming requests from the Department of Defense."

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The Air Force previously said that, because of higher-than-expected personnel costs and the delay in congressional approval to reprogram funds, it was pausing some duty assignments and reenlistment and retention bonuses. Department of the Air Force spokeswoman Rose Riley told late Wednesday evening that the service is "aware and checking into what this means" but did not detail a plan for reenacting bonuses or permanent change-of-station moves.

"We continue to work through the details as quickly as possible," Riley added Thursday.

In a process known as reprogramming, the Pentagon seeks approval from the leaders of the House and Senate armed services and appropriations committees before it moves money between accounts. Congressional sign-off is sought because of Pentagon policy and tradition, but there is no law requiring the Defense Department to get approval first.

While the Air Force's announcement on personnel shortfalls was the first visible effect of Rogers' hold, hundreds of millions of dollars in reprogramming requests across the military branches are reportedly being delayed. Rogers releasing his hold on personnel funding was first reported by Defense News.

Rogers and other members of Alabama's congressional delegation from both parties are increasingly frustrated with the Air Force's dilatory deliberations in choosing between Alabama and Colorado as the permanent home for Space Command. Whichever state wins the headquarters will also win 1,400 jobs, an economic boon of millions of dollars, and the prestige of hosting a high-profile military command.

Two years ago, 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. But lawmakers from Colorado, where Space Command is temporarily based right now, alleged political interference in the decision, bolstered by former President Donald Trump's own words that he "single-handedly" chose Alabama.

"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.'"

Both the Pentagon's inspector general and the Government Accountability Office investigated, and had procedural critiques and called out shoddy recordkeeping. Ultimately, they did not uncover or identify any major issues with Huntsville as a location for the base.

With more than a year passed since the investigations finished and still no announcement from the Air Force on a final decision, Alabama lawmakers have increasingly flexed their muscles to try to force a decision.

In addition to delaying reprogramming requests, 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.

Rogers has also launched his own investigation into the basing process. In May, he requested the Air Force hand over documents to the committee related to the Space Command decision.

In a second letter sent Wednesday, Rogers demanded the documents be produced by Friday and that Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Space Command chief Gen. James Dickinson sit for transcribed interviews with the committee by Aug. 18.

"The committee's review of publicly available information, meetings with each of you and information from whistleblowers makes one thing clear: The Department of the Air Force and the leadership of USSPACECOM are engaged in deliberate, taxpayer-funded manipulation of a competitive selection process," Rogers wrote to Kendall and Dickinson. "Your continued failure to comply with documentary and testimonial requests may result in the use of compulsory processes."

Last week, President Joe Biden named a new commander for U.S. Space Command. But Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has continued to pause all high-level promotions in the Senate in retaliation for the Pentagon's policy allowing troops to leave for civilian abortion services, leading to uncertainty 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: Alabama Lawmaker Blocks Pentagon Budget Moves to Force Decision on Space Command Basing

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