WASHINGTON — U.S. Space Command could face another six-month delay to establishing a permanent headquarters, according to the latest version of the fiscal 2024 defense policy bill.

A provision in the bill would prevent the command, which is responsible for military operations in space, from funding projects to construct a headquarters until two watchdog agencies complete reports evaluating the decision this summer to base the organization in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Those reports, from the Defense Department inspector general and the U.S. comptroller, are due in June 2024.

House and Senate lawmakers are expected to vote on the compromise bill, released Dec. 6, in the coming weeks.

If adopted, the provision and the associated delay would continue what has been a four-year effort to identify a home for Space Command. Despite basing decisions from former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden and a series of watchdog reviews, the organization has been temporarily headquartered in Colorado since it was re-established in 2019.

The basing decision has largely centered on two sites: Huntsville, Ala., and Colorado Springs. As he was leaving office in 2021, Trump announced Huntsville as his choice to host the command’s headquarters — a decision met with immediate pushback from Colorado lawmakers, who called the Air Force-led process “fundamentally flawed.”

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., requested a Government Accountability Office review of the decision and a DoD inspector general investigation. Both agencies concluded in 2022 that while the basing process lacked transparency and credibility, the Air Force followed the law when choosing Huntsville.

The Pentagon, in the midst of those watchdog reviews, initiated a new selection process. Despite the conclusions from GAO and the inspector general’s office, the Biden administration announced July 31 that Space Command would remain in Colorado Springs, reversing Trump’s decision.

In turn, House Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican from Alabama, used his influence to quickly launch a congressional investigation. He threatened to subpoena DoD officials for documentation of the Air Force’s selection process and called for additional reviews from GAO and the inspector general.

As the debate continues over where Space Command’s headquarters will land, DoD officials have said they’re concerned about the organization’s “operational readiness” the longer it operates in a provisional state.

In a Sept. 28 House Armed Services Committee hearing, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said that while he viewed Huntsville as the most affordable option, Colorado Springs presented the lowest operational risk.

“The decision came down to a judgment about the operational risk associated with relocating versus the reduced cost of the leading alternative of Huntsville,” Kendall said. “I fully support the president’s judgment in this matter, given the intensifying threat. And with a final decision now . . . we are prepared to move forward with the implementation of this basing decision.”

Gen. James Dickinson, head of Space Command, said during the hearing that moving the headquarters to Huntsville would deal a significant blow to its civilian personnel, who currently make up 60% of its workforce. He said the command estimates 88% of those civilians would opt not to transfer to the new location.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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