In his final days as U.S. president, Donald Trump turned a Colorado dream into a nightmare: He awarded U.S. Space Command to Alabama, a deep-red state.
On January 13, the U.S. Air Force announced that it had selected Redstone Arsenal in Alabama as the permanent headquarters of Space Command, a combatant command that coordinates all the military branch's space-focused activities.
"The Air Force picked Colorado, and Trump overruled the Air Force," says Reggie Ash, the chief defense development officer at the Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corporation, who had been leading the city’s efforts to keep Space Command at its temporary headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base.
Because Space Command's temporary home was already in Colorado Springs, elected officials and space-industry professionals across the state had been pushing hard to keep the headquarters here. The City of Aurora had also tried to land Space Command, at Buckley Air Force Base, but that option didn't make the cut as a finalist.
After the Air Force conducted tours of the six locations named as finalists, military leaders said they'd settled on Peterson, local officials contend. The site was logical for a variety of reasons. Since the provisional headquarters of Space Command was at Peterson, significant infrastructure was already in place there. In fact, from 1985 to 2002, the first version of Space Command had been based at Peterson, too, before the George W. Bush administration shut it down. Add to that history the fact that Colorado already has a robust aerospace economy, and Colorado Springs seemed like a lock.
In his campaign to keep his seat in the U.S. Senate, Cory Gardner touted his work to keep the headquarters here, and Trump seemed encouraging.
But Republican Gardner lost to Democrat John Hickenlooper, and Colorado lost Space Command to Alabama.
"I think the timing of this announcement, coming just a week before a new administration takes over, and the fact that it needlessly moves a major military headquarters from a state that voted for Biden to a state that voted for Trump, smacks of politics," says Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project and Defense Budget Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Moving the headquarters of Space Command does not help national security, and the Air Force previously estimated it could cost over $1 billion. That money could be put to much better uses, like protecting our military satellites (such as GPS) from the weapons Russia and China have been testing in space."
The announcement came as a painful blow for Colorado, which would have gained an estimated 1,400 jobs that would've created an economic impact of more than a billion dollars a year, according to an analysis by the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. And that estimate didn't include all the money that would have trickled down to construction companies and other business from up-front capital investments, not to mention all of the contracts that would have been available for nearby aerospace companies.
In a joint statement, Governor Jared Polis and Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera, who had been serving as the point person for the State of Colorado's Space Command advocacy efforts, noted that "reports that the in-depth military process found Colorado Springs to be the best location for military readiness and cost and recommended Colorado to the President only to be overruled for politically motivated reasons are deeply concerning."
But with a new president just a week away, Colorado's not giving up. As it is, Space Command will continue to be temporarily located at Peterson for at least the next five years before officially moving to Alabama, and that gives the state some room to maneuver.
Doug Lamborn, the Republican who represents Colorado Springs in the U.S. House of Representatives, has already asked President-elect Joe Biden to reconsider the "horrendous decision."
And in bipartisan accord, Polis and Primavera, too, suggest that a reversal is in order: "We pledge to work with our federal delegation to restore integrity to the process as it unfolds."
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