Military leaders back Biden decision to keep Space Command in Colorado
Stars and Stripes September 28, 2023
Military leaders on Thursday defended President Joe Biden’s decision to nix U.S. Space Command’s planned move from Colorado to Alabama as a necessary and nonpolitical decision to avoid operational problems.
Army Gen. James Dickinson, who has led Space Command since August 2020, told members of the House Armed Services Committee that moving the Pentagon’s newest combatant command from Peterson Space Force Base, Colo., risked losing hundreds of its critical civilian workers. But lawmakers — primarily Republicans from Alabama — argued Biden’s July 31 decision to cancel the command’s planned move to Redstone Arsenal, Ala., was an unprecedented political maneuver by a Democratic president who is campaigning for a second term.
“The Biden administration has chosen to play politics with our national security after a long and competitive national process [in which] Huntsville, Alabama was selected as the best location to host the United States Space Command,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chairman of the committee. “The Biden administration has attempted to circumvent the results and place SPACECOM’s permanent headquarters in Colorado Springs in the name of readiness. Let me be clear, this is not and has never been about readiness.”
Rogers called for the hearing in the summer after Biden’s announcement that he had personally chosen to maintain SPACECOM at Peterson SFB, taking the decision away from Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, who had spent some two years examining the issue. Former President Donald Trump in July 2021 announced Space Command, which Trump had reestablished as a combatant command in 2019 after it had been folded into another command for two decades — would be permanently headquartered at Redstone following a review of several potential headquarters locations, including Peterson. Lawmakers from Colorado, which has long been the home of the bulk of the military’s space operations, balked at Trump’s decision, accusing him of awarding Alabama for supporting him in the 2020 election, which he lost.
Now Biden faces similar allegations of political gamesmanship over his decision. Alabama lawmakers accused him of seeking 2024 election votes in Colorado or punishing Alabama over its near-total abortion ban and the blocking of procedural votes to confirm top military officers imposed by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala.
Kendall, who testified Thursday alongside Dickinson and Space Force Gen. Chance Saltzman, the chief of space operations, told lawmakers Alabama’s abortion policy was never discussed in myriad conversations about the decision.
Kendall said he had endorsed moving Space Command from Colorado to Redstone Arsenal, but he was overruled by Biden.
“Any basing decision involves a balancing of different and often competing factors,” he said. “In my judgment, the two most important factors in this basing action ultimately proved to be, one, the cost to the taxpayer of constructing and operating a new permanent headquarters facility … and, two, the operational risks associated with any transition from the provisional headquarters in Colorado to another location.
“President Biden exercised his authority as commander in chief and chief executive to make the final decision to locate the permanent headquarters of U.S. Space Command in Colorado. I fully support the president’s decision.”
Kendall told committee members that he believed cost savings tilted the scales toward his Redstone recommendation, outweighing readiness concerns a move could cause. The military would save an estimated $426 million by building a new, state-of-the-art 464,000 square foot facility to house SPACECOM’s 1,450-person workforce at Redstone over Peterson. The cost of living in the Huntsville region is also cheaper than in Colorado Springs, he said.
Dickinson, however, said internal studies showed some 88% of his civilian workforce would not leave Colorado Springs for Alabama.
The general warned the loss of that group of experts could prove problematic in an increasingly hostile space operations theater, where the United States is competing with China and Russia.
“We have seen a rapid growth in capability and capacity in particular by China,” Dickinson said. “In terms of the workforce, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that we have a trained and ready workforce … and moving that would create that operational risk that we are talking about today, in that you would take a trained and ready force, and then have to move them to another geographic location, which would create risk.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., labeled Biden’s decision as an inevitable conclusion to keep Space Command in Colorado.
“Colorado Springs takes a backseat to no one,” he said. “… There is not some conspiracy to overturn this merit-based approach.”
Lamborn, who represents the Colorado Springs area, was among the state’s delegation who objected to Trump’s 2021 decision on his way out of the White House.
The Colorado delegation asked the Government Accountability Agency and Defense Department inspector general to probe Alabama’s Space Command victory. However, the watchdogs found Redstone scored higher than Peterson in criteria outlined by the Air Force and Pentagon in its search for a permanent base.
Rogers said he will initiate watchdog reviews of Biden’s basing decision. The committee chairman said he will ask the DOD IG to probe the decision to leave Space Command in Colorado. He also warned he would work to block funding for a permanent Space Command headquarters building in Colorado, and he would work to ensure funding for construction of a new headquarters at Redstone was included in future appropriations bills.
“The one thing that Gen. Dickinson had indicated in his concerns … is that some of the civilians may not want to move,” Rogers said. “As we have made clear here, he can use contractors to fill that void. There’s not going to be impact to operational readiness.”
Whether decisions were made for political reasons, lawmakers appeared to agree the process for selecting a permanent home for Space Command was faulty.
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee, said he didn’t believe politics was a factor in either Trump’s or Biden’s decision on the headquarters. But he described the back-and-forth decision process as a “bollixed up” and “terrible” procedure.
Rep. Adam Scott, R-Ga., said he did not know if politics were at play, but the process certainly appeared political to Americans. He worried the Space Command decisions could set a precedent where Republican and Democrat presidents in the future routinely make headquartering decisions for political reasons.
“If we go down that path, and that’s the way that the decisions are going to be made, then when you have a Republican president, the missions are going to be put in red states and when you have a Democratic president the missions are going to be put in blue states,” Scott warned. “A political agenda is going to end up destroying the effectiveness of our DOD and our national security.”