Air Force looking at next steps on Space Command basing decision

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“We're all hoping to move forward with a final decision as quickly as we can," said Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall

WASHINGTON – During a hearing May 13 of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) asked Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to lay out the next steps in the possible relocation of U.S. Space Command.

“Assuming that the GAO does not recommend overturning the original basing decision” to move Space Command from Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, Aderholt asked, how long will it take to get this done?

“We’re all hoping to move forward with a final decision as quickly as we can,” Kendall told Aderholt. 

The Government Accountability Office has completed one of two independent investigations of how the Air Force determined its preferred location for U.S. Space Command.

Alleging that the former Trump administration improperly influenced the decision, Colorado lawmakers asked GAO and the Defense Department’s inspector general to review the process that led the Air Force in January 2021 to recommend Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. 

The IG said in a report last week that investigators found no evidence of undue influence. Many of the details of how six candidate bases were scored and comments made by senior U.S. military officials were redacted from the IG report.

The GAO report also is being heavily redacted. The Defense Department designated it CUI, short for controlled but unclassified information. 

“We are working as quickly as we can to develop a public version of our report; I anticipate that will be coming in the next few weeks,” a GAO spokesperson told SpaceNews. GAO has shared its report with members of Congress and staff who requested it and “who demonstrated a need to know,” the GAO spokesperson said. 

One of the lawmakers who briefed on the GAO report, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), said GAO “confirmed that during the U.S. Air Force’s comprehensive process, Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama was 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 final decision matrix.” 

He also said the GAO was “critical of eleventh hour attempts to elevate a much lower ranked installation into the number two position. That artificial action gave the appearance of bias.”

Kendall said at the HAC-D hearing that his office had not yet reviewed all the final reports. Under the standard basing process, the next step would be to conduct an environmental review “as well as looking at some other considerations before we finalize the decision,” he said. 

The 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions.

Normally, that process would take about four months total, Kendall said. Three months would be needed to complete the assessment and a month to allow public comments. “I’m very hopeful that one way or the other, we get a final decision within the next several months,” he said. 

If Redstone Arsenal passes the environmental review and no major issues emerge, the new headquarters would still take several years to stand up.

Kendall noted a new building would have to be constructed that meets the requirements of a military command headquarters.