The secretary of the Air Force, authorized with making the final decision on the permanent home for Space Command headquarters, is investigating changes made in the command’s mission of which the secretary was not aware.
That’s according to a letter released Thursday by Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers, who announced a probe looking into those changes as well by the House Armed Services Committee that he chairs. The Armed Services Committee has oversight of the armed forces.
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It’s the first indication that changes have been made to the evaluation process and goes beyond the stepped-up rhetoric in recent months from Alabama’s representatives in Washington as well as Montgomery. Gov. Kay Ivey said last week that Alabama “would not take ‘no’ for an answer” on Space Command.
Those changes, Rogers’ letter said, could alter the requirements previously outlined for the Space Command headquarters. A series of federal reviews determined Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal was the best site for the permanent home of Space Command. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said the revelation of changes to the selection criteria “breaks our trust in the selection process.”
An NBC News report earlier this month said that the Biden administration was looking to keep Space Command at its startup location in Colorado Springs, Colo. The rationalization, the report said, focused on Alabama’s restrictive laws on abortion.
Rogers, a Republican from Saks, reiterated months-long concerns from Alabama’s congressional delegation that the decision-making process is skewing toward political influence rather than merit based.
“Today, I launched an investigation into the continued delays in the SPACECOM Headquarters basing decision,” Rogers said in a statement. “The fact is, the Air Force already made the correct decision well over two years ago. That decision was affirmed by the GAO and the DoD Inspector General over a year ago. This decision was based on multiple factors, and Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama was the clear winner in the Evaluation and Selection phase. I am deeply concerned that the continued delays in making this move final are politically motivated and damaging to our national security.”
Rogers sent his letter from the Armed Services Committee to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Space Command Commander James Dickinson. Kendall said in March that “additional analysis” was ongoing relating to the Space Command decision.
“During our meeting, Secretary Kendall said that he did not direct SPACECOM to make ‘fundamental’ changes to SPACECOM’s mission and headquarters requirements and was unaware of anyone else in the Department of Defense having done so,” Rogers’ letter said. “Yet such changes have occurred. These apparently sweeping unilateral changes to policies and posture seem to have been made with zero civilian oversight at the Department of Defense.
“Secretary Kendall also stated that he was unaware who, if anyone, at the Department of Defense approved expenditures of taxpayer funds to unilaterally change the mission or headquarters requirements of SPACECOM.”
The letter went on to say, “Secretary Kendall informed the delegation that he launched his own investigation into these irregularities. The Committee on Armed Services will also undertake its own investigation into this matter.”
U.S. Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama, in social media posts, echoed the concerns expressed by Rogers.
“Secretary Kendall told Alabama’s bipartisan delegation this week that ‘fundamental changes’ were being made to Space Command’s basing requirements — yet he isn’t the one making the changes, and he’s unaware of who is making the changes,” Britt said. “What’s clear is that this basing decision is being stolen from the Air Force behind the American people’s backs. We deserve answers and we’re going to keep fighting until we have them.”
U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama applauded Rogers’ efforts.
“Appreciate the leadership of (Rogers) to hold leaders accountable and find out why this decision is not being followed through,” Tuberville said in a message posted on Twitter.
The district of Congressman Dale Strong, a Republican from Monrovia, includes Redstone Arsenal. Strong is also a member of the Armed Services Committee.
“After a delegation meeting with the Secretary of the Air Force, I had no choice but to request that House Armed Services Committee Chairman, Mike Rogers, open a formal investigation into the Biden administration’s failure to announce a permanent location for U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) headquarters,” Strong said in a statement Thursday.
Battle read a statement regarding Space Command at Thursday’s city council meeting.
“In the search for a home for US Space Command, this community went through a lengthy selection process that allowed us to showcase the greatness of Huntsville not just once or twice and even three times,” Battle said. “Media reports that the results of the selection process has been changed and our No. 1 ranking may even be invalidated. The selection process should not allow the changing of the rules after the competition ends. The results should not be guided by anyone.
“It’s clear Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal won the competition. We were chosen because we could best provide for the long term good of the American military and for the safety of the American public and our allies. It now appears some are trying to change results and give this selection to another community. This breaks our trust in the selection process and the agencies administering the competition. I’m saddened that the integrity of this process has come to the point that an investigation is necessary.”
In a Twitter post, Battle described the apparent changes as “shadowy.”
“I fully support an investigation into what appears to be a shadowy attempt to undermine the ethical and objective selection process that identified Huntsville as the permanent home for Space Command,” Battle said.
It’s been almost 2½ years since the Air Force announced that Redstone Arsenal was the “preferred location” for Space Command. Still, no decision on a permanent home has been announced.
“Redstone Arsenal was chosen as the preferred location after a years-long process,” Strong said in his statement. “The decision was later confirmed not just once, but twice with the results of the Government Accountability Office and Department of Defense Inspector General investigations.
“It is plain and simple: Redstone Arsenal is the best possible location to host U.S. Space Command headquarters. The Air Force’s basing process established this, and it was confirmed.”
Rogers, who last week asked officials involved in the decision-making process to “preserve all documentation” related to that decision, called on Space Command in his letter to “cease and desist from any action that implicates taxpayer funds in a scheme to alter the mission or headquarters requirements of SPACECOM without civilian order or oversight.”
Rogers also asked for an array of “documentations and communications” related to the decision-making process to be delivered no later than June 16.
Updated today, May 25, 2023, at 6:18 p.m. with additional comments from elected officials.
Updated today, May 25, 2023, at 6:42 p.m. with comments from Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.