Space Command Builds Colorado Headquarters as Congressmen Seek to Force Alabama to Relocate
The head of the US Space Command is building his military command headquarters in Colorado, even as members of Congress try to force the Department of Defense to move the headquarters to Alabama as planned by holding funding hostage, two say congressional officials and two defense officials.
NBC News was the first to report that the Biden administration is reconsidering an approved move of the headquarters to Alabama because the state has imposed a near-total ban on abortion.
On June 7, Gen. James Dickinson, commander of Space Command, began a review to determine whether the command is in full operational capability, or FOC, officials said, meaning whether it has the resources and personnel to be fully capable of carrying out its mission in its current location. While under Initial Operational Capability, Space Command is hiring personnel for temporary positions at its current headquarters at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but under FOC may make the positions permanent.
In a meeting with members of Congress last week, Dickinson said the goal is to achieve and declare FOC by the end of this summer or early fall.
House lawmakers this week introduced two bills that freeze money for construction, renovation, or rental space in Colorado Springs until a decision is made by headquarters, publicly announced and justified by the secretary of the state. Frank Kendall, who is responsible for choosing between the two sites. Lawmakers would also cut half of Kendall’s travel budget until the decision is announced.
Space Command is a unified Pentagon command with elements from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and is distinct from the separate military branch known as the Space Force.
The Republican-run House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee went even further Wednesday, including a provision that Kendall’s decision must be consistent with findings from a Government Accountability Office report and a review by Pentagon inspectors general. both of which found Huntsville, Alabama was the preferable location. The language makes it impossible for Kendall to select a location other than Huntsville.
In January 2021, President Donald Trump announced that Space Command would be permanently headquartered in Huntsville. Soon after he took office, the Biden administration called for a review of the decision. Both the GAO and the Pentagon Inspector General felt that Huntsville was ultimately the appropriate choice given the requirements for the command and that the selection process, while not perfect, was legitimate.
But the Air Force has yet to initiate a move. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin handed the decision to Kendall, who began her review late last year. Months later, in an as-yet-unannounced decision, congressional and defense officials told NBC News that the Biden administration was trying to stop the move to Alabama because it disagreed with the state’s new restrictive laws on the abortion and reproductive care.
If the headquarters moved to Alabama, it would be at Redstone Arsenal, which lacks a base hospital, leaving staff members and dependents to rely on local civilian medical providers. The military would have to pay for female service members and dependents to leave the state for abortions and some reproductive care. The command is expected to have around 1,400 people, many of whom will be civilians, plus their families.
In May, Kendall announced another review, arguing that Dickinson had recently changed his requirements for a headquarters and that fundamental changes could have influenced the basic decision. Kendall sent a team to Colorado last week to evaluate the new requirements.
At the same time, Dickinson met with members of the Alabama and Colorado congressional delegations and denied making any changes, according to two congressional officials and a defense official. Dickinson didn’t respond when asked why Kendall sent a team to Colorado.
Public disputes between senior US military and defense officials are rare, but the base location decision has become a political liability, with the Biden administration pushing for Colorado and many top military leaders behind the process it selected the Alabama.
The Air Force is only delaying this decision because every review finds for Huntsville and they don’t want to admit it, a congressional official said.
A US Space Command spokesman confirmed that Dickinson met with delegations from Alabama and Colorado in Washington, DC, last week. The commander clarified to delegations that USSPACECOM is ready to execute its combat requirements from any location. USSPACECOM stands ready to deter aggression and defend space capabilities, the spokesman said.
An Air Force spokesman said the branch was awaiting Kendall’s baseline decision and declined to comment further.
In his meeting with the Alabama and Colorado delegations, Dickinson reiterated his comment that moving the headquarters would not impact operations or present a national security concern due to already existing operational redundancies. It will likely take three to five years to move command to Huntsville; during the move, operations could continue in Colorado without any pause, according to several military and defense officials.
After the meeting, one of the Alabama delegation members tweeted that Dickinson also said he preferred Huntsville for headquarters.
I was assured by him that he could not imagine any circumstances in which he would not recommend Huntsville as his permanent SPACECOM headquarters. He had no doubts about the initial decision, GOP Rep. Dale Strong tweeted.
And Republican Senator Katie Britt released a statement saying Dickinson confirmed to us that US Space Command Headquarters belongs to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.
He added that the White House needs to keep politics out of this.
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