Members of the 114th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron of the Florida Air National Guard operate a satellite at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., in January 2023.

Members of the 114th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron of the Florida Air National Guard operate a satellite at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., in January 2023. (Jacob Hancock/U.S. Air National Guard)

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers in recent weeks have taken an ax to the Air Force’s controversial proposal to move Air National Guard units with space missions into the Space Force.

The House Armed Services Committee voted last month for a draft of an annual defense policy bill that gives governors the ability to block such transfers.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriation Committee’s defense subpanel advanced a defense spending bill that prohibits “the moving of National Guard missions, functions or personnel to the Space Force in contravention of current law.”

The legislative moves are being welcomed by opponents of the plan who argue it will undermine the authority of governors over their National Guards and ignore the wishes of Guard members who choose to serve not just their country, but a specific state.

“We believe the two committees looked at the proposal, weighed its impact — not just the impact on the nation’s space capabilities today and tomorrow but also the important role the governors play in the nation’s defense — and acted accordingly,” said John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States, a lobbying organization.

The Air Force submitted a plan to Congress to bring part-time personnel into the military’s newest service branch in hopes that the proposal would be included in the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act, an annual must-pass bill that sets policies for the Pentagon.

Air Force officials said the plan would allow the Space Force to build up a part-time, active-service model previously approved by Congress as an alternative to the creation of a Space National Guard.

The proposal would affect 578 airmen in the Air National Guard who work in space-related career fields, according to the Air Force. The troops would be able to choose between joining the Space Force and subject themselves to the rigors of active-duty service, or retraining for a new job in the Guard.

Critics, including all 50 governors, assailed the plan as an affront to more than 120 years of tradition and warned it would hurt recruiting and retainment. Air National Guard leaders estimated up to 70% of their space-focused airmen would resist a transfer.

“Not only is the proposal unnecessary, but we believe it will degrade our space capabilities,” Goheen said. “It already has damaged the relationship between the Pentagon and the governors.”

Lawmakers in both congressional chambers have increasingly added their voices to the opposition. A bipartisan group of 85 House and Senate members last month urged the House and Senate Armed Services Committee to reject the Air Force proposal.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., used his draft of the defense authorization bill to tone down the plan, capping the number of Guard members who could be transferred and requiring the Air Force to find new positions for those who do not want to move.

The full House panel late last month dismantled the plan even further, agreeing to an amendment that maintains the ability of governors to nix any transfers and makes transferring units optional, rather than required, if the Air Force plan becomes law.

House lawmakers drafting legislation that will fund the authorization bill made it clear Wednesday that none of the appropriated funds could be used to circumvent laws that grant governors control over their National Guards.

About 1,000 Air National Guard members across 14 units work on space missions in Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, New York and Ohio, according to the National Guard Association.

It is unclear how the Senate will approach the ongoing debate. The Senate Armed Services Committee is set to take up its version of the defense authorization bill next week. Goheen said the association is in contact with the committee.

“The smartest thing to do would be to stop this, to go back to the governors and then weigh the ramifications and work together on a solid plan forward,” he said. “We believe if you weigh all the facts, much like the House did, you don’t move forward on this proposal.”

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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