A new Pentagon Inspector General (IG) report concluded that a Department of the Air Force decision in January 2021 to move U.S. Space Command headquarters from its temporary headquarters at Peterson Space Force Base, Colo., to Redstone Arsenal, Ala., was above board, but the IG report is heavily redacted in sections, and the IG said that former Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett declined to discuss her meeting with Trump on Jan. 11 last year.
“The SECAF declined to discuss the specifics of the January 11, 2021 meeting with the president in detail,” according to a footnote in the IG report. “Notes or transcripts of the January 11, 2021 meeting with the president were not available for us to review.”
The new IG report found that the Air Force’s 2020 basing decision ‘complied with federal law and DoD policy and that the Basing Action process was reasonable.”
After revising selection criteria in May 2020, the Air Force named six possible headquarters locations for USSPACECOM in November 2020–Kirtland AFB, N.M.; Offutt AFB, Neb.; Patrick AFB, Fla; Peterson; Port San Antonio, Texas, and Redstone Arsenal (Defense Daily, Nov. 19). Four of those locations–Kirtland, Offutt, Patrick and Port San Antonio–were not on the Air Force’s original headquarters downselect list.
The color-coded analysis and results from each of the six locations are blacked out in the report.
“In sum, the SECAF’s January 12, 2021 action memorandum, which included the decision matrix dated January 12, 2021, identified Huntsville, Alabama, as the preferred permanent location to host the USSPACECOM HQ and identified the other five candidate locations as reasonable alternatives,” the new DoD IG report said. “We evaluated the decision matrix dated January 12, 2021, and determined that it was consistent with the rankings in the color chart, which identified Huntsville, Alabama, as the preferred permanent location to host the USSPACECOM HQ.”
“We determined that the rankings of the six candidate locations for 18 of the 21 criteria in the color chart were reasonable,” the IG report said. “However, we could not fully verify the accuracy of the Basing Office’s rankings of the six candidate locations in the color chart for 11 of the 21 criteria because Basing Office personnel did not create or retain the supporting documentation, as required by AFI [Air Force Instruction] 33‑322.”
The Pentagon IG and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have been separately reviewing the selection of Redstone Arsenal, a decision announced by Barrett on Jan. 13 last year.
On that date–a week before the end of the Trump administration, Barrett informed Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey that the Air Force had picked Redstone Arsenal as the preferred location for USSPACECOM’s permanent headquarters (Defense Daily, Jan. 13, 2021).
That same day, the House of Representatives impeached then-President 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 Air Force’s 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.
First established in 1985 to provide joint command and control for the military services in space, USSPACECOM broke up in 2002 and its functions transferred to U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt. The then-defense secretary, the late Donald Rumsfeld, “met with President [George W.] Bush on 31 May [2002) and, after discussing possible locations for the new, expanded STRATCOM headquarters, the president agreed to use Offutt AFB,” per a Joint Chiefs of Staff history of the United Command Plan.
In August 2019, four months before the creation of the U.S. Space Force, DoD re-established USSPACECOM as the 11th combatant command.
At a March 8 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) suggested that the Air Force decision last year to move USSPACECOM from its temporary headquarters to Huntsville did not make fiscal nor operational sense, given the urgency of Chinese and Russian threats to U.S. space systems (Defense Daily, March 8).
“I’m puzzled, given the challenges of setting up this new command, of the fact that you’re still only at about 50 percent capacity in terms of the staffing you need, why we’re going to spend several years now trying to move SPACECOM to a new location,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen then asked Army Gen. James Dickinson, the head of USSPACECOM, to help her “understand why, given all of our urgency and the decisions we need to make, we’re going to spend the money and the time to re-locate Space Command to a totally different place.”
Given the ongoing IG and GAO reviews, Dickinson deflected the question but said that “for me, it is not necessarily about the location” of USSPACECOM.”
“It is about the decision,” he said. “I need a decision as soon as I can possibly get one so that I can build to full operational capability as quickly as possible. We do have competitors that are moving very quickly. Those competitors aren’t necessarily waiting for me to reach FOC (full operational capability).”
USSPACECOM, which had about 1,500 personnel in March, achieved initial operational capability last August.