Redstone Arsenal moves its main gate farther from the interstate and expands inbound lanes to improve traffic. Now, the outbound lanes for the gate will be expanded to reduce traffic leaving the installation. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON — After a year-long investigation, the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General concluded that the January 2021 recommendation to relocate U.S. Space Command headquarters from Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama, was reasonable and not improperly influenced by politics.

The IG released its findings May 10 in a report titled “Evaluation of the Air Force Selection Process for the Permanent Location of the U.S. Space Command Headquarters.” 

The review was requested in February 2021 by Colorado lawmakers who argued that the decision to move Space Command headquarters from Peterson Space Force Base to Redstone Arsenal — made in the waning days of the Trump administration — was politically motivated and counterproductive as most of Space Command’s workforce and industrial base reside in Colorado.

The IG, however, did not find any evidence to back those assertions. 

“Overall, we determined that the 2020 Basing Action process directed by the Secretary of Defense complied with Federal Law and DoD policy and that the process was reasonable,” wrote Randolph Stone, assistant inspector general for space, intelligence, engineering and oversight.

The IG report said the Air Force developed the 2020 basing action “based on the best practices” used by the Army in 2018 when it selected Austin, Texas, as the location of the Army Futures Command.

DoD approved four evaluation factors the Air Force recommended to assess six candidate locations:

  • Assessment of the available qualified workforce, proximity to mutually supporting space entities, and the ability of the eligible locations to provide emergency and incident response requirements, and enable mobility.
  • Infrastructure requirements to include: facility and parking space; communications bandwidth and redundancy; special access communications; anti‑terrorism, force protection, and security requirements; energy resilience; and the nearest active duty installation’s base operating support to service members to include medical care, childcare, military housing, and transportation.
  • Support to military facilities as measured by the quality of schools, professional licensure portability, cost of living, housing affordability, and access to military/veteran support programs.
  • One‑time infrastructure and transportation costs, area construction cost factor, basic housing allowance rate, and area locality pay.

To score bases, Air Force “used publicly available data, incorporated site visits conducted by the basing office personnel, and provided periodic status updates to Congress,” said the IG.

Many portions of the IG report were redacted. It said the evaluation factors that led to the selection of Huntsville “were a reasonable and objective means of assessing, scoring, and ranking the candidate locations for hosting the USSPACECOM HQ.”  

The IG did criticize the Air Force basing office personnel for poor record keeping. “During our analysis of the selection phase, basing office personnel could not provide us with all of the documentation used to support their analysis and ranking of candidate locations because they had generally not created or retained it.” As a result the IG had to do extra work to come up with the data it needed. 

There is one remaining step that must be completed before U.S. Space Command headquarters is relocated: an environmental study expected in spring 2023.

Following the release of the IG report, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala), said: “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. For more than a year the IG conducted an audit of the Air Force’s work. I’m pleased that, after this extensive evaluation, the IG confirmed that the basing process complied with the law and that the decision was based on objective factors.”

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said in a statement that he will continue to fight to reverse the decision. “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.

A separate report on the basing selection process is expected to soon be released by the Government Accountability Office.

“The DoD OIG report focused on the chronology of the events and whether any nefarious or illegal actions occurred, while the forthcoming GAO report did a much deeper review of the criteria and scoring in this basing decision,” said Lamborn. “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. I will continue to advocate for a fair and transparent basing decision that prioritizes national security imperatives and rapidly addresses the increasing threats we face in space.”

Colorado senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper in a joint statement said they 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. Chief among those concerns is Peterson Space Force Base’s singular ability to reach full operational capability as quickly as possible. Space Command should remain permanently based at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...