The decision to transfer U.S. Space Command from its temporary headquarters at Peterson Space Force Base, Colo., to Redstone Arsenal, Ala., contradicted inputs from U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, the head of U.S. Space Command, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, and then Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John Hyten, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
On Jan. 11, 2021, a day before then U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett announced the basing decision, Barrett and other top DoD officials met with then President Trump in the White House.
“The U.S. Space Command Combatant Commander, the U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations, and the former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told us that they conveyed to meeting participants their position that remaining at Peterson Air Force Base would allow U.S. Space Command to reach full operational capability as quickly as possible,” per the new GAO report.
On June 2, Colorado lawmakers called on the Biden administration to consult with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to “make a decision…that prioritizes our national security and mission in space.”
“We now know that in a White House meeting in January 2021, senior military leadership recommended Colorado Springs as the preferred location for Space Command due to the unique ability of Peterson Space Force Base to reach Full Operational Capability significantly faster than any other potential location, and at a significantly lower cost,” according to a statement from Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) and Reps. Doug Lamborn (D-Colo.) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.).
The Redstone selection was “justified with inconsistent documentation and unclear reasoning,” the lawmakers said on June 2.
On the same day as Barrett’s announcement–eight days before Trump was to leave office, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for a second time for his role in fomenting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol a week earlier to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
State officials in Nebraska and Colorado have questioned the basing decision and contend separately that Offutt and Peterson are better USSPACECOM headquarters locations than Redstone Arsenal.
Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has suggested that Trump had overruled the Air Force’s analysis of Peterson as the best location and forced the selection of Redstone Arsenal in an attempt to court Alabama’s congressional delegation, including freshman Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R), ahead of Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
Curiously, the new GAO report does not reach a conclusion on who decided to transfer USSPACECOM headquarters from Peterson to Redstone.
“Although the Air Force documented the general rationale for selecting Redstone Arsenal in an action memorandum and accompanying documents, there was not consensus among the officials we interviewed regarding who ultimately made the decision to name Redstone Arsenal as the preferred location for U.S. Space Command headquarters, including the role of the then President in making the decision,” the report said.
“For example, one former official stated that the then Acting Secretary of Defense [Chris Miller] made the decision, with agreement from the President and other senior officials,” per the GAO report. “A second former official told us that more clarity on who had authority to make the decision would have been helpful, but that it seemed the authority to make the decision remained with the Secretary of the Air Force and was not retracted by the President. Air Force Strategic Basing Office officials stated that the then Secretary of the Air Force retained the authority to make the decision on the preferred location, and that she made that decision on January 12, 2021, as indicated in the action memorandum.”
A Pentagon Inspector General (IG) report last month concluded that the Jan. 12, 2021 basing decision was above board, but the IG report is heavily redacted in sections, and the IG said that former Air Force Secretary Barrett declined to discuss the White House meeting on Jan. 11 last year (Defense Daily, May 12).
After revising USSPACECOM basing selection criteria in May 2020, the Air Force named six possible locations for a permanent base–Kirtland AFB, N.M.; Offutt AFB, Neb.; Patrick Space Force Base, Fla.; Peterson; Port San Antonio, Texas; and Redstone.
Four of those locations–Kirtland, Offutt, Patrick and Port San Antonio–were not on the Air Force’s original headquarters downselect list.
“While the January 2021 selection of Redstone Arsenal as the preferred location for U.S. Space Command headquarters was consistent with the Air Force’s analysis, our assessment of the Air Force’s revised selection process and attendant analysis against our AoA [Analysis of Alternatives] best practices identified significant shortfalls in its transparency and credibility,” per the new GAO report.
“By developing guidance for future strategic basing decisions that is consistent with our AoA best practices, and determining the basing actions to which it should apply, the Air Force would be better positioned to substantiate similar basing decisions with key stakeholders,” the report said. “Such decisions could include those that exceed a certain monetary threshold or hold strategic significance to DoD. Moreover, doing so could help prevent bias, or the appearance of bias, from undermining the perceived credibility of future, high-profile strategic basing decisions and better inform congressional oversight.”