WASHINGTON — Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and urged him to reverse the Air Force’s decision to relocate U.S. Space Command headquarters, the senators said in a joint statement Jan. 26.
“We met with Secretary Austin today and agreed with DoD that politics should have no role in the Space Command basing decision process,” they said in the statement.
The meeting took place three days after Bennet voted against confirming Brendan Owens as assistant secretary of defense for energy and installations because Austin repeatedly ignored his request for a meeting about the Space Command basing decision. In a tweet Jan. 23, Bennet said he would “consider holds on other Pentagon nominees until a meeting takes place.”
The senators did not disclose what was discussed with Austin or whether Austin is even considering overruling the Air Force’s decision made in the final days of the Trump administration to relocate U.S. Space Command headquarters from Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama.
A DoD official told SpaceNews Jan. 26 that the department “is engaging” with Colorado lawmakers but did not provide details on what is being discussed.
The basing decision has become a drawn-out political battle. Immediately after former Air Force secretary Barbara Barrett announced the selection of Redstone Arsenal as the future home of U.S. Space Command, pushback began from Colorado lawmakers, who requested that the Government Accountability Office and the Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General review the decision-making process.
Neither the GAO nor the OIG found anything improper with the decision process. An environmental assessment by the Department of the Air Force said the proposed relocation would have “no significant impacts on the human or natural environment.”
Austin two years ago said he stood behind the Air Force’s decision.
Bennet and Hickenlooper, both Democrats, told Austin that he should review the circumstances of the basing decision.
“Over the last two years, investigations revealed that senior military leaders identified Peterson Space Force Base as their top choice for Space Command’s headquarters because it will reach full operational capability faster than any other location, cost less, and minimize attrition and disruption to the mission,” they said in the Jan. 26 statement. “Instead, President Trump put politics first with his abrupt decision to send U.S. Space Command to Alabama.”
The relocation would affect about 1,450 personnel assigned to U.S. Space Command headquarters, as well as several hundred support contractors. The proposed headquarters would consist of approximately 464,000 square feet of office space and 402,000 square feet of vehicle parking.
The United States first stood up Space Command in 1985 but merged it with U.S. Strategic Command in 2002. It was reactivated in August 2019 and provisionally located at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, pending a permanent basing decision by the Department of the Air Force.
“In the face of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s saber rattling in the Pacific, national security cannot just be one of many criteria. It has to be the central priority,” the senators said. “We expressed these concerns to Secretary Austin today, and reiterated that in the best interest of our national security, Space Command must remain in Colorado.”