The Inspector General for the Department of Defense has launched an investigation into whether proper protocols were followed by the U.S. Air Force in choosing Huntsville, Alabama, as the permanent location for Space Command.
The investigation comes just weeks after the Air Force announced during the last week of President Donald Trump's tenure that Space Command would be heading to Huntsville. The announcement shocked elected officials and space-industry leaders in Colorado, who viewed Colorado Springs, where temporary Space Command headquarters have been located at Peterson Air Force Base, as the logical choice for the permanent command.
"I welcome the investigation by the DOD Office of Inspector General, and look forward to this review," Congressman Doug Lamborn, the Republican who represents that district, says in a statement. "I will continue working to ensure that this decision was made with neither political bias nor arbitrary and inappropriate metrics which will ultimately materially damage our national security and hamper Space Command’s critical mission."
The first iteration of Space Command was located in Colorado Springs from 1985 to 2002. Trump restarted the combatant command, which unifies all branches of the military when it comes to space operations. Space Command is not the same as Space Force, which Trump formed as a space war-fighting branch of the Air Force.
After the Air Force announced on January 13 that Space Command would ultimately move to Alabama, proponents of keeping the headquarters in Colorado charged that the decision was influenced by politics. Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs said, among other things, that they had heard from sources in Washington, D.C., that the Air Force had actually chosen Colorado Springs for the permanent Space Command headquarters before the Trump administration overrode the decision, likely as a way to reward political allies in Alabama. In that state, Republicans had gained a Senate seat in the November elections, while Colorado had lost one when Democrat John Hickenlooper beat incumbent Cory Gardner.
On January 26, Hickenlooper and the rest of Colorado's congressional delegation sent a joint letter to President Joe Biden asking his administration to review the decision, stating that "significant evidence exists that the process was neither fair nor impartial and that President Trump’s political considerations influenced the final decision."
The Inspector General plans to look at whether the Air Force complied with Department of Defense and Air Force policies during the location selection process, "used objective and relevant scoring factors to rank" the candidate locations, and "calculated the cost and other scoring factors accurately and consistently" among the candidate locations, according to the announcement of the investigation.
Besides Colorado Springs and Huntsville, Alabama, the Air Force had considered basing the Space Command headquarters at finalist facilities in New Mexico, Florida, Nebraska and Texas.
Colorado has been eager to land Space Command headquarters permanently not just because it would keep jobs here, but because it would also bring in more economic development.
According to an analysis by the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, Space Command's 1,400 jobs alone would create an economic impact of over a billion dollars a year. And that estimate doesn't include up-front capital investments that would generate major contracts for construction companies and other businesses. Local aerospace companies would stand to benefit financially, too.
"Colorado is the epicenter of the national security space mission and has been performing the mission since the inception of Space Command in 1985. Moving Space Command will disrupt the mission while risking our national security and economic vitality. Politics have no role to play in our national security. We fully support the investigation," Senator Michael Bennet and Senator John Hickenlooper say in a joint statement released after the Inspector General's announcement.
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