Rogers Bears Down on USSPACECOM Decision

Rogers Bears Down on USSPACECOM Decision

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) is taking more steps to challenge President Biden’s decision to keep U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado instead of moving it to Alabama as promised by former President Trump. He wants the key military and civilian DOD leaders involved in the decision to testify to his committee when Congress returns and is requesting an investigation by the Government Accountability Office.

Rogers chairs the House Armed Services Committee and represents a district close to Huntsville, AL, Trump’s choice for the permanent headquarters of USSPACECOM. Trump’s decision to move it from Colorado to Alabama in the closing days of his administration sparked immediate complaints from Colorado’s congressional delegation who asked Biden to take a second look.

Colorado Springs, home to a number of other national security space facilities, has been USSPACECOM’s temporary headquarters since it was reestablished in 2019. USSPACECOM is one the 11 Unified Combatant Commands and is in charge of warfighting in space. It is separate from the U.S. Space Force, one of the six military services that “organize, train, and equip” military personnel for assignment to the unified commands as needed. U.S. Space Force is headquartered at the Pentagon.

Building 1 at Peterson Space Force Base, Colo. is the provisional headquarters of U.S. Space Command.  Credit: U.S. Space Command (photo by Christopher DeWitt.

The issue has festered for the past two-and-a-half years. Whichever location Biden selected was sure to cause a firestorm. He finally announced his decision to keep it in Colorado just as Congress left town for its summer recess.

The controversy is not partisan, but based on state allegiances. Politicians from both parties insist it should be in their state.

Biden’s decision may not be the last word.

Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Army, Commander, U.S. Space Command

Rogers immediately threatened to subpoena DOD officials unless they voluntarily provided documents pertaining to the decision.

This week he stepped back a bit by announcing he is inviting — not subponeaing — Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, USSPACECOM Commander Gen. James Dickinson, and U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, to testify in open session on Biden’s “politically-motivated decision” to keep USSPACECOM in Colorado.

Today he took another step by asking GAO to investigate how the decision was made.

Critics of Trump’s decision to move it to Alabama similarly asked for a GAO investigation. They argued Trump was politically motivated in moving it to Huntsville as a reward for Alabama’s support during the presidential election.

Nominally a basing decision such as this is the responsibility of the Secretary of the Air Force and the DOD Inspector General also looked into the Trump-era decision.

Both GAO and the DOD IG demurred on the role Trump himself played at a January 11, 2021 meeting in the White House since that information is classified. Overall the DOD IG found the decision complied with law and policy and GAO concluded the Air Force’s process for making recommendations on where it should be based left “shortfalls in its transparency and credibility.”

Those reports were issued more than a year ago. It has taken until now for Biden to choose one place or the other. Multiple news reports say that Kendall favored Huntsville, but Dickinson argued for keeping it in Colorado to ensure operational readiness and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III took both recommendations to Biden for a decision.

Rogers’ letter asks for an investigation because of concerns about “untoward political interference” and for GAO to answer these questions:

1) What were the requirements used during the initial selection process for USSPACECOM headquarters?
2) Did those requirements change during the selection process, whether prior to GAO’s previous work or afterwards?
a. If they changed, what were the new factors?
b. How did they differ from original requirements?
c. Who in DoD leadership directed those changes, or were these changes directed from elsewhere in the Administration?

Additionally, because reporting indicates the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin presented final options to the President:

3) How did the previously publicly attested process that assigned the Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall as the deciding government official alter at the last minute?
4) Why wasn’t Secretary Kendall’s decision the final decision, as Secretary Kendall had publicly said was his to make?
5) Did Secretary Austin remove this decision from Secretary Kendall, or was the decision unilaterally removed from Secretary Kendall by the White House?
6) In what ways was General Dickinson, SPACECOM Commander, involved in the decision process?
7) Are there emails, briefing material, or other documentation that shows how the basing process was altered, who altered it, and how the final decision was eventually made that GAO can evaluate in its reporting?

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