U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is likely to get his meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the pending move of the U.S. Space Command Headquarters to Alabama after Bennet threatened this week to put a hold on his own party’s Pentagon appointees until his questions about the move are answered.
Bennet’s office could not immediately confirm today that the Democrat’s threat to block Democratic President Joe Biden’s six remaining unconfirmed DOD appointees had already resulted in a scheduled meeting. But Bennett is using what Capitol Hill veterans say is one of the few tools at a senator’s disposal to force a policy review. U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) threatened the same kind of hold in December over proposed changes in Defense Department abortion policies.
Tuberville’s office said today the threat likely means Austin sees the headquarters decision “is going Alabama’s way.”
The base decision fight started in 2019 when the Pentagon identified six suitable locations for the permanent SPACECOM headquarters. The command was started and is now located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
After that announcement was challenged, the Pentagon allowed communities to “self-nominate” to host the headquarters. Sixty-six communities from 26 states responded.
After a lengthy and detailed review, the Air Force said in January 2021 that it had visited the six finalists to compare “factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support and costs” and “Huntsville compared favorably across more of these factors than any other community.” Those finalists were in Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas.
A General Accounting Office (GAO) review of the decision said the Air Force selection process “identified Redstone Arsenal as the highest scoring location in the Evaluation Phase, the highest ranked location in the Selection Phase and the location with the most advantages in the decision matrix.”
The GAO review also said the Air Force process “created the potential for bias” by considering a second option at Peterson Air Force Base (Colorado) that was based on unsubstantiated information, which might have affected the extent to which discussion focused on candidate locations ranked higher than Peterson in the Air Force analysis. (Peterson ranked 5th of 6 sites.)”
In August 2021, however, former President Trump claimed during an interview on the “Rick & Bubba” show that he “single-handedly” made the relocation decision to favor Alabama. Colorado has pointed to that interview since as evidence of presidential interference.
Tuberville sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has urged the committee to move forward on the base selection. “At this point, the biggest thing standing in the way of SPACECOM is political inertia and sore loser syndrome, each a detriment to U.S. military effectiveness,” he wrote committee members in May. “It’s time we embrace the Air Force’s decision and move forward together.”
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