DoD IG says SPACECOM basing decision was legal, large parts of rationale remain redacted

Some lawmakers felt political influence decided the location more than feasibility.

After some controversy, a government watchdog said the decision to move U.S. Space Command headquarters to Huntsville, Alabama, was reasonable and complied with the law. However, important details as to why the location was chosen remain redacted in the report, leaving much of the Defense Department’s rationale for the decision still undisclosed to the public.

“We determined that, overall, the basing action process directed by the Secretary of Defense complied with federal law and DoD policy, and the Air Force complied with the Defense secretary’s requirements for the basing action, though the Basing Office personnel did not fully comply with Air Force records retention requirements,” the authors of the DoD Inspector General report wrote.

SPACECOM is the combatant command responsible for military operations outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The report goes on to say that out of the 21 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.

Those criteria included things like having an available qualified workforce, communication bandwidth, support to military families and considerations for cost to DoD.

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.

One sentence reads:

“We interviewed the SPACECOM, who told us that his office coordinated with Basing Office personnel to ensure consideration of the SPACECOM requirements in the four evaluation factors and 21 associated criteria. For example, the SPACECOM told us that [redacted].”

Whole charts breaking down the comparisons of the bases as a headquarters and scoring them from 1 to 100, are blacked out in the report.

While the conclusion seems to absolve DoD and the Air Force of favoring Huntsville, the transparency within the report doesn’t do much in terms of explaining how DoD came to its conclusion.

Members of the Colorado delegation were concerned by the decision to choose Huntsville and denounced the decision based saying it was chosen for political reasons. The report doesn’t speculate on how much political weight was thrown around.

Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and John Hickenlooper, (D-Colo.) said they are reviewing the findings of the report.

“We will have more to share in the coming days. Our position remains that the previous administration used a basing process for U.S. Space Command that was untested, lacked transparency, and neglected critical national security and cost considerations,” the wrote. “Chief among those concerns is Peterson Space Force Base’s singular ability to reach Full Operational Capability as quickly as possible. Space Command should remain permanently based at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado.”

There is also a Government Accountability Office report forthcoming on the issue. The senators saw a draft of that report in April.

“We have said before that the U.S. Space Command basing decision was the result of a flawed and untested process that lacked transparency and neglected key national security and cost considerations,” they wrote. “After reviewing the draft GAO report, we are even more concerned about the questionable decision to move U.S. Space Command from Colorado to Alabama.”

The contention over the SPACECOM headquarters started after some lawmakers suspected foul play by the Trump administration of favoring Huntsville after the military seemed to want to make Colorado Springs, Colorado, the headquarters.

The former president even said last summer that he picked Huntsville as the location because he loves Alabama.

Top military officials said in January 2021 that they wanted Colorado Springs as the headquarters’ home based on best military judgement, even though the location ranked fifth in the final scoring provided to the inspector general.

Colorado Springs is home to U.S. Northern Command and much of the military’s space assets. The interim headquarters are also in Colorado Springs. It seemed like a logical decision to place SPACECOM there.

The final rankings put Huntsville first; followed by Albuquerque, New Mexico; Bellevue, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. Cape Canaveral came in sixth.

The inspector general is recommending that DoD put in place a solid policy for choosing combatant command locations to avoid these issues in the future.

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