Colorado lawmakers oppose Alabama site for Space Command
The selection of Alabama's Redstone Arsenal as the new site for U.S. Space Command operations has ruffled the feathers of many elected officials from Colorado. In a move designed to reverse the Trump administration's decision to re-locate the headquarters, members of Colorado's congressional delegation, as well as state legislators, are calling for the Biden administration to reconsider. Currently, the command center is housed at Colorado's Peterson Air Force Base.
On the Wednesday before the presidential inauguration, the Pentagon announced that Huntsville, Alabama would be the new home of the U.S. Space Command. On that same day, Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn wrote a letter to president-elect Biden asking for an outright reversal of the Redstone Arsenal selection.
"This last-minute decision, based entirely on political expediency, will devastate our space capabilities," wrote Lamborn. "I call on you to use your authority upon taking office as our nation's commoner-in-chief to reverse this foolish and hastily made decision."
Last Tuesday, Colorado's congressional delegation penned another letter to President Joe Biden, again urging him to keep the Space Command at its current location in Colorado Springs. The missive also suggested that the decision to move the command center from Peterson Air Force Base was politically motivated. While the delegation did not make specific accusations against the Trump administration, they did cite irregularities in the Air Force's selection process.
"We write to request you conduct a thorough review of the Trump Administration’s last-minute decision to move U.S. Space Command from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Huntsville, Alabama and suspend any actions to relocate the headquarters until you complete the review," the letter began. "Additionally, significant evidence exists that the process was neither fair nor impartial and that President Trump’s political considerations influenced the final decision."
Colorado's politicians and military personnel are particularly upset because Peterson AFB was initially selected as a preferred location for the command, but when the search process was renewed to include the review of other potential sites the selection criteria changed. The command, established in 2019, oversees the military operations of all service branches in space and has called Peterson its temporary home for the last two years.
Throughout the selection process, the Centennial State's officials executed a coordinated campaign to keep the Space Command at the Peterson base. The city of Colorado Springs offered $130 million in incentives and 1500 acres of city-owned land toward the project. The Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce printed red t-shirts during a Trump visit promoting the city as the premier location for the command.
Disappointment over the departure of the command was not just confined to federal lawmakers. Colorado's governor, Jared Polis, and lieutenant governor, Dianne Primavera, released a joint statement panning the decision to move, calling the choice "misguided."
“This move threatens jobs, could cause serious economic damage, and upend the lives of hundreds of military and civilian families that were counting on U.S. Space Command staying at home in Colorado Springs as well as harm military readiness,” read the statement.
Criticism of the Redstone Arsenal choice came from outside of Colorado as well. Four other states and their military bases lost their bid to Alabama: Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico; Patrick Air Force Base in Florida; Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska; and Joint Base San Antonio in Texas. Elected officials from many of the states with finalist sites were critical of the decision.
In a Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce meeting last Thursday, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) told virtual attendees that the selection process "deviated" from the Air Force's standardized approach to making basing decisions. “Many of us, many of my colleagues, were shocked at where the process landed, frankly, given the equities that were not in the community that was chosen,” said Heinrich of other members of Congress.
The row over the space headquarters has already caught the ear of the newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin. During his January 19th confirmation hearing, Austin—the first African-American to lead the Pentagon—was asked by Heinrich about the fairness of the selection process. Austin committed to investigating the matter, saying, "I’ll make sure we look at all the processes going forward so that future decision are made within confined policies that have been laid out."
Despite the controversy surrounding the future of the nation's space operations, John Henderson, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy, is adamant that the process was fair and that Redstone Arsenal was the right choice.
“It was a deliberative, informative discussion, everybody in the room got to express their thoughts and their recommendations,” Henderson explained. In reference to accusations that the Trump White House influenced the move, Henderson added, “I don’t feel like anything was inappropriately pushed in our direction.”
Ultimately, the fate of the U.S. Space Command is not completely sealed. The Department of the Air Force has yet to conduct an environmental impact analyses at Redstone Arsenal. The final determination is for site selection is expected in early 2023 and the move to a permanent location for the Space Command is anticipated to be completed by 2026.