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Fight to Keep U.S. Space Command in Colorado Continues

Colorado lawmakers and civic leaders were handed a powerful argument in the fight to keep U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs on Tuesday, in a leaked report from the Pentagon's Office of the Inspector General.

(TNS) — Colorado lawmakers and civic leaders were handed a powerful argument in the fight to keep U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs on Tuesday, in a leaked report from the Pentagon's Office of the Inspector General.

Findings from a federal investigation into the legitimacy of the January 2021 decision to headquarter the agency in Huntsville, Ala. — and the fact that a recommendation by senior military leaders to keep the base in Colorado Springs was ignored — give Colorado politicians another occasion to press against moving the Space Command headquarters from the state, a fight that began on Jan. 13, 2021, with a surprise announcement by the outgoing Trump administration.

"We are reviewing the report in full and remain confident that Colorado Springs remains the rightful home of U.S. Space Command. We will continue to advocate, as we have since day one, for Peterson Space Force Base to continue to execute its critical mission especially in light of the recent findings," Gov. Jared Polis' office said in a statement to The Gazette.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers echoed those sentiments.

"The OIG report confirms what we have been saying all along: that keeping USSPACECOM in Colorado Springs is in the best interest of national security," Suthers said Wednesday, in a statement. "It (is) important to note that our nation's senior military leaders made these recommendations even before Russian actions in Ukraine — a protracted conflict that is estimated, according to the Director of National Intelligence, to be more unpredictable and potentially escalatory in the coming months."

The nation's top military leaders chose Colorado Springs as the permanent home of Space Command, based on "best military judgment," and made their feelings clear in a decision document briefed to President Donald Trump on Jan. 11, 2021.

Two days later, however, the outgoing administration chose to award the headquarters to Huntsville, citing a metric-based evaluation by the Air Force that ranked the Springs at No. 5 on a list of six contenders.

The OIG report, the second of two federal inquiries launched in the wake of the Trump-era announcement, reveals key details about a yearslong, confusing process, and its contradictory recommendations.

Given the original goal of the inquiry, which was to determine whether any "nefarious or illegal actions occurred," U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R- Colorado Springs, questioned the outcome, and the metrics the Air Force used to determine its rankings.

A review of the basing decision by the Government Accountability Office, requested by Lamborn and other members of the Colorado delegation last year, sought a deep dive into the "methodology and scoring" that went into the Air Force's decision. A public version of that completed report is due soon, but Colorado lawmakers who requested and signed off on it got an early look.

That forthcoming GAO report found "significant shortfalls" in the "transparency and credibility" of the process leading up to the Huntsville decision, and "did a much deeper review of the criteria and scoring in this basing decision," Lamborn said in a statement to The Gazette.

"With only a cursory review of the process itself, the DoD OIG's conclusion that the previous basing decision was reasonable simply means that it was logical based on flawed evaluations," he said. "Two of the four recommendations in the DoD OIG report are to more fully account for the imperative to quickly achieve full operational capability based on concerns raised by our military leaders that this was not adequately factored in during this basing process."

Getting a permanent headquarters up and running in Huntsville would take at least three years longer than it would in the Springs.

Lamborn said he will continue to fight for transparency about the process, and a "basing decision that prioritizes national security imperatives and rapidly addresses the increasing threats we face in space."

On the heels of the January 2021 announcement by the Trump administration — and reporting by The Gazette about the political motivations that may have influenced it — U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper issued a statement denouncing the decision and questioning its logic. They later teamed up with other Colorado lawmakers to request the OIG investigation into the potential impact of politics on a decision Trump admitted, seven months after he left office, was made by him alone. His statement confirmed a Jan. 13, 2021, report by The Gazette.

The OIG investigation, however, found the Huntsville decision was "reasonable" based on the Air Force selection criteria, despite the fact it ran counter to the recommendation of the military leaders charged with keeping the nation safe, at a time when space is increasingly a "warfighting domain."

In a joint statement Wednesday, Bennet and Hickenlooper said they'll have more to say after reviewing the 73-page draft report, released publicly in redacted form and obtained, in full, by the website Breaking Defense.

"We are reviewing the findings of the report, and will have more to share in the coming days. Our position remains that the previous administration used a basing process for U.S. Space Command that was untested, lacked transparency, and neglected critical national security and cost considerations," they said.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bennet said he's talking with administration officials, about the basing decision and why it should be revisited.

"Given the current geopolitical moment we find ourselves in, this decision must prioritize our national security considerations. We must reach Full Operational Capability as quickly as possible. That's why Space Command must remain in Colorado."

That decision can only be made by the nation's highest office.

Polis' office has outlined a multipronged approach to try to persuade the Biden administration to reverse the Trump administration's decision to pick Huntsville.

"We have continued to engage the Biden administration regarding this critical national security decision and previously urged the former president to keep Space Command in Colorado," spokesman Conor Cahill said. "Just last month, Gov. Polis met with Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall to advocate for maintaining Space Command in Colorado Springs."

The governor's office also noted its work with Colorado's congressional delegation and local leaders to advocate for keeping Space Command at Peterson Space Force Base.

"We have also continued to work with our partners in the legislature to ensure that Colorado continues to be the best place for military members, their families, and our veteran community," Cahill added.

© 2022 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.