Congress’ Government Accountability Office said this week it will investigate whether the Air Force followed its own procedures when it decided last January to locate U.S. Space Command’s permanent headquarters at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, over Offutt Air Force Base and four other sites.
The decision followed a request from Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo. Peterson Air Force Base, in Lamborn’s Colorado Springs district, was one of the sites bypassed in favor of Redstone and is the current headquarters of SpaceCom. The other three finalists were Port San Antonio in Texas, Patrick Air Force Base in Florida and Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
Lamborn and other members of Colorado’s political and business leadership have alleged that then-President Donald Trump chose Huntsville over Colorado Springs in order to reward political allies.
The Space Command is in charge of all of the military’s space operations. It is separate from the Space Force, which was created by President Trump as a sixth branch of the armed forces in 2019.
SpaceCom became a fully independent joint command in 2019 after 17 years under the umbrella of the Offutt-based U.S. Strategic Command, and it is temporarily headquartered in Colorado Springs until a permanent site is chosen. It was also based there during its previous incarnation as an independent command, from 1985 to 2002.
Redstone was the only Army base under consideration. It is the center of Army missile operations and is the headquarters of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the Missile Defense Agency and the Army Space and Missile Command. Huntsville bills itself as “Rocket City.”
The Pentagon tasked the Air Force with choosing the permanent site. The selection process was launched last spring, and the six finalists were announced in November. The site selection committee heard one-hour video presentations from each city and made inspection visits to each site before making a recommendation to then-Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett. She announced her decision Jan. 13 after consulting with Trump, then-Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the nation’s National Command Authority.
Redstone was selected as the “preferred” site, though the others were named as “acceptable” alternatives. A final decision will be made in 2023 following environmental assessments.
The GAO’s announcement comes one month after the Department of Defense Inspector General announced it would study whether the Air Force’s siting process complied with Air Force and Defense Department policies.
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said he and other members of Congress with districts affected by the decision were briefed by the Air Force last month on how their sites fared. They were not given full results of the evaluation, though, and were asked not to release briefing slides to the news media.
Bacon said the selection committee ranked Offutt second to Redstone on the strength of the Omaha area’s low cost of living, its schools and the $107 million financial package offered toward the cost of building SpaceCom’s new $1 billion headquarters. He said senior leaders later bumped Offutt to third place, moving Peterson up to second.
Bacon said Offutt lost out because Omaha lacks the space-related businesses that Huntsville or Colorado Springs could offer.
“We were competitive in every area, except we didn’t have a space mission at Offutt,” Bacon said. “We have a great workforce. It just isn’t a space workforce.”
He said he’s glad the decision is being looked at, although he doubts it will change the final decision.
“I think it’s good to have a review and make sure it was fair,” Bacon said. “The bottom line was that we did very well.”