GAO says Air Force decision on SPACECOM location was sloppy

The Air Force left out critical best practices in selecting the new headquarters.

The Air Force may have picked the location for U.S. Space Command’s headquarters legally, but that doesn’t mean it did the job well.

The Government Accountability Office says the service missed some serious best practices in its decision to move SPACECOM from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Huntsville, Alabama. The move provoked Congressional claims of foul play the Trump administration and a Defense Department Inspector General’s investigation.

The GAO report, which the organization released Thursday, states that the Air Force only followed seven of the 21 analysis of alternatives best practices, who the watchdog says can “help increase transparency and avoid the presence or appearance of bias.”

GAO said the Air Force’s process of selecting Huntsville led to significant shortfalls in its transparency and credibility.

“Air Force officials told GAO they did not use the analysis of alternatives best practices as a guide during the revised process because the practices were not required or relevant to basing decisions,” the authors of the report wrote. “However, GAO believes that the analysis of alternatives best practices are relevant and, if effectively implemented, can help ensure such basing decisions are transparent and deliberate.”

The criteria is based on four categories judging how comprehensive, well-documented, credible and unbiased the decision was in the Air Force’s process.

The service got the best marks for being comprehensive by defining mission need, developing alternatives and assessing their viability.

The worst assessments came in the credibility section. The Air Force failed to include confidence levels, life-cycle cost estimates and did not perform an independent review.

“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 analysis of alternative best practices identified significant shortfalls in its transparency and credibility,” the GAO authors wrote.

GAO, much like DoD IG, is recommending that the Air Force come up with guidance for how it will objectively select bases in the future.

Members of the Colorado Congressional delegation said the GAO report confirms their concerns about the basing decision.

“Over the past year, we’ve repeatedly raised concerns that the previous administration used a flawed, untested, and inconsistent process to select a location for SPACECOM,” they wrote. “The reports from the GAO and the DoD IG both confirm that the basing process lacked integrity and neglected key national security considerations.”

They go on to say that they urge the Biden administration, along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to review the findings and make a decision that prioritizes national security.

The DoD IG report on the basing decision stated that it complied with federal law.

The report said 21 of the criteria used by Basing Office officials to choose the headquarters, 18 were reasonable. However, eight of those criteria could not be fully verified when it came to ranking the best locations for the headquarters.

However, all of the information going in-depth as to why Huntsville was chosen over other locations and the points the location accrued compared to other possible spots is redacted from the report.

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