WASHINGTON — The Government Accountability Office will review the U.S. Air Force’s decision to headquarter Space Command in Huntsville, Alabama.
The city was one of six locations competing to be the future home of SPACECOM, the 11th combatant command reestablished in 2019 as part of the Trump administration’s shake-up of the nation’s military space organizations, which included the creation of the U.S. Space Force and the Space Development Agency. SPACECOM was initially located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado as the Air Force determined the future location for the new headquarters, expected to host 1,400 personnel. Peterson AFB was one of those six sites to survive the first round of cuts.
That competition came to an end on Jan. 13, when then-Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett announced that SPACECOM would move to the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.
Colorado officials criticized that decision — which came during the Trump administration’s final days — arguing that the final selection was political in nature. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., wrote a letter Feb. 1 to the GAO asking the watchdog to review the decision, and on March 19 GAO confirmed that it intends to do just that.
“I am very pleased that the Government Accountability Office is conducting an investigation of the methodology behind the headquarters selection process for U.S. Space Command,” said Lamborn in a statement. “I believe the process the Department of the Air Force used was fundamentally flawed. It is crucial we thoroughly review their entire process to ensure that the decision was both sound and rooted in our national security interests.”
Lamborn has advocated keeping SPACECOM in Colorado Springs.
In his initial letter, Lamborn asked GAO to evaluate the Air Force’s methodology and scoring for the decision. While Lamborn repeats concerns that then-President Donald Trump may have improperly influenced the decision, he stated that the review should be limited to how the Air Force scored each location in accordance with its headquarters criteria.
“This kind of review is precisely what GAO excels at, and I am confident they will investigate in a transparent, nonpartisan, and unbiased manner,” said Lamborn. “I will continue working to ensure that USSPACECOM is headquartered at a location which strengthens and does not disrupt our national security space enterprise.”
Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, told Defense News in February that he was OK with GAO reviewing the decision, although he expressed skepticism that the selection of Redstone Arsenal would be reversed.
“I’m fine with looking at it,” said Rogers. “I don’t think it’s going to yield anything other than what the Air Force has already said: They did a thorough review and this was the solution they thought was best. But I’ve been around in this town long enough to know that the losers on these kind of projects always scream ‘politics.’”
“It shouldn’t be determined by whether your state voted blue or red; it should be determined by which location offers the best benefit at the least price for this endeavor,” he added. “So I’m not bothered. I’m sure it’s going to yield the result that we’ve already seen, and they can have at it as far as I’m concerned.”
GAO’s response — which Lamborn’s office released — notes that the agency will begin work on the matter shortly, assuming that it is not duplicating other efforts. SpaceNews reported in February that the Department of Defense’s inspector general is also investigating the decision following a request from Lamborn.
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.