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Citing national security concerns, Air Force Space Command demands a stable budget

Astronauts arrive at Peterson Air Force Base on November 13, 2017.

DAVID SALANITRI/U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

By JOE RUBINO | The Denver Post (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 8, 2017

To say there is a lot riding on taxpayer funding continuing to flow to Air Force Space Command — both from a national security and Colorado economy standpoint — may be selling it short.

The command, headquartered at Colorado Springs’s Peterson Air Force Base, leads U.S. military efforts in space and cyberspace. Between its four facilities in the state, including Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, it employs a combined 28,000 enlisted personnel, officers and civilians in the state.

Counting the salaries of those people, contracts with outside companies and other contributions, Space Command has a roughly $3 billion impact on Colorado annually, according to Brig. Gen. Trent Edwards, the command’s director of programming, financial management and comptroller.

Those contributions were preserved — for two weeks at least — Friday when President Donald Trump signed off on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through Dec. 22, staving off a potential government shutdown as Congress works to craft a funding bill for the 2018 fiscal year.

Edwards, joining with other U.S. military leaders who have spoken out about the situation in recent months, says it is past time for Congress get serious about funding the armed forces.

“How would you like it if your employer said, ‘I can’t pay you 100 percent of your paycheck. I can only pay you 80 cents on the dollar and I don’t know when I can play you that,'” Edwards asked during a recent interview. “(Space Command is) a $180-billion institution and we don’t know how much we’ll be getting. We need a stable, predictable funding line every fiscal year. That’s what we’re asking from our Congress.”

A government shutdown is possible if the current continuing resolution is allowed to expire before a 2018 spending bill is approved. If that happens (as it did briefly in 2013) all non-essential civilian government employees would be furloughed, while essential staff and military personnel would be required to come to work without pay, Air Force officials say. All contract work with the government would abruptly cease.

That could have sizable impacts on the economy in Colorado and nationwide. Even if that is averted by a new spending bill or another continuing resolution — commonly called a CR — Edwards said Congress failure to provide a stable funding stream for defense is putting Americans at risk. Under a CR, Edwards and other military leaders can’t sign new contracts — meaning deferred equipment maintenance and purchases — and can’t make new hires.

“Nine out of the last 10 years we’ve operated under a CR,” he said last week, before the most recent continuing resolution was adopted. “That’s a total of 30 CRs lasting 1,000 days. Three years of a CR where I can’t make long-term strategic decisions, and that’s just dangerous.”

Space Command’s uncertain budget situation could ripple out beyond the military, impacting decisions made by industries that work on large defense contracts like aerospace.

In its home base of Colorado Springs, the economic importance of the military is especially pronounced.

Local military activity accounts for an estimated $4.5 billion in financial impact in the southern Colorado city, according to Rich Burchfield, chief defense development officer for the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC, some 44 percent of the local economy. Around 260 local companies do work directed related to the armed forces, Burchfield said.

One of Colorado’s biggest employers works directly with Space Command. Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, employer of 14,000 Coloradans, according to the state, provides support for the command’s global position satellites and space-based infrared systems. Lockheed officials declined to comment on how continuing resolutions specifically impact the company’s plans and operations.

“It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to speculate about the budget at this time, but we continue to monitor the ongoing budget discussions and remain hopeful that Congress and the president will come to an agreement,” company spokesman Chip Eschenfelder said in an email.

If anyone should be upset by the lack of a stable defense budget, it’s American taxpayers, Edwards said. After all, they’re paying for it. By not providing funding to purchase new equipment or maintain existing equipment, Congress is creating a backlog of needed purchases and work that will only result in a larger bill when the money comes through.

“The CR, by its nature, drives inefficient resource allocations,” he said.

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