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Defense Department review backs process leading to Space Command HQ move to Alabama

One of the gates to Redstone Arsenal. Huntsville area photos from January 2021. (Joe Songer/

A key Pentagon review has said that the Air Force process that would lead to moving U.S. Space Command Headquarters to Huntsville was reasonable in its conclusions that the Alabama site was best, but asked for one more look at several areas of comparison.

The new military command with a mission to protect America from attacks from space was started and temporarily based in Colorado Springs, Colo., while permanent base locations were sought from a list of competing proposals. Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville and the base in Colorado Springs were finalists. Colorado congressional representatives have consistently attacked the possibility Huntsville came out on top.

The review was barely released Tuesday when the website Breaking Defense reported that former President Trump was briefed on Jan. 11, 2021 that Colorado, not Alabama, was the choice of top military leaders. Colorado Springs “has remained popular with service leaders,” Breaking Defense said. Trump has claimed credit for the base decision.

The Pentagon started its detailed base selection process long before this decision to avoid personal and political influence and pressure in base moves. The Alabama site came out on top in the comparison, and the latest review by the Department of Defense Inspector General found reasons to support that decision.

“We found that the process Air Force officials used to select Huntsville, Alabama, as the preferred permanent location for the U.S. Space Command headquarters (USSPACECOM HQ) complied with law and policy and was reasonable in identifying Huntsville as the preferred permanent location,” the DoD IG’s Office said.

However, the IG’s report did recommend that the Secretary of the Air Force “review the Air Force Basing Office’s analysis of the base selection criteria of ‘Childcare,’ ‘Housing Affordability,’ and ‘Access to Military/ Veteran Support’ to verify that the United States Space Command Headquarters basing decision was supported.”

The acting secretary of the Air Force, John Roth, said he would look at those three areas before finalizing the decision. That left the conclusion in those areas “resolved but open.”

The inspector general’s review is one of two that were under way after Colorado Springs challenged the original pick, but it was the one most awaited by local officials in Alabama. The second review by the General Accounting Office has not been released.

The Space Command is a relatively new command responsible for military operations in outer space including space forces provided by other uniformed branches of the Defense Department. It is commanded by Gen. James Dickinson. A move would mean construction of a new headquarters and transfer of 1,800 members of the headquarters staff. But a new headquarters would also be required if the command HQ remained in Colorado.

The Air Force sent a team of experts to the two finalist cities for a “qualitative and comprehensive” review. The team looked at the two bases and their surrounding communities in terms of whether the bases had room to grow and to host employees and their families. Factors included schools, medical care, cost of living, a healthy jobs market for spouses and the availability of quality, affordable housing off base. The Air Force designated Huntsville its “preferred” site after that review.

“Of the 21 associated criteria Basing Office officials used in the process, we determined that 10 criteria were reasonable and accurate because either the Basing Office personnel or subject matter experts (SMEs) generally had the supporting documentation, or we were able to verify the information using publicly available data,” the DOD Inspector General’s review said Tuesday. “In addition, eight criteria were reasonable based on extensive discussions with the Basing Office personnel and SMEs; however, we could not fully verify the accuracy of those rankings due to the lack of supporting documentation. In addition, for three criteria, we could not determine reasonableness or accuracy of the ranking because either the Basing Office personnel or SME were not available to discuss them or there was no supporting documentation.”

“We determined that, overall, the basing action process directed by the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) complied with Federal law and DoD policy, and the Air Force complied with the SECDEF’s requirements for the basing action, though the Basing Office personnel did not fully comply with Air Force records retention requirements,” the inspector general said. “We found that Basing Office personnel developed relevant and objective evaluation factors and associated criteria to assess, score, and rank candidate locations. In addition, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Energy, Installations, and Environment and Basing Office personnel sought input from stakeholders, including USSPACECOM officials.”

“The decision for the location of USSPACECOM Headquarters is critical. It affects not only national security but also military personnel and the communities of these candidate locations, said Sean O’Donnell, Acting Inspector General, Department of Defense. “We verified that the process the Air Force used to make the preliminary selection complied with law and policy. However, we recommend that the Secretary of Defense review senior leader concerns regarding full operational capability and the Secretary of the Air Force ensure site selection criteria important to service members, veterans, and military families were fully considered,”

Republican U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Huntsville praised the decision Tuesday as “ in the best interest of our national security and “yet another major victory for Redstone Arsenal, the Tennessee Valley and all of Alabama.” Brooks, a candidate for U.S. Senate this year, promised “to do all I can to ensure this decision holds.”

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville also applauded the decision Tuesday night. “The bottom line of the report is that the Air Force’s process which led to the selection of Redstone as the best home for SPACECOM was rock solid,” Tuberville said. Tuberville said the “prior administration followed the rules to make the best decision for the warfighter: SPACECOM should be in Huntsville.”

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, a candidate to replace Brooks in the House this year, said the review “confirmed what we new all along.” The process for making the decision “was fair and considered many factors,” Strong said, “and at the end of that process Redstone Arsenal was always the clear winner for Space Command Headquarters.”

I hope we can now stop the second guessing and begin the real work to establish this new command here at Redstone,” Strong said.


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