Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond established Space Operations Command, the U.S. Space Force’s first of three Field Commands, during a ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base, Oct. 21, 2020. (Staff Sgt. J.T. Armstrong/U.S. Space Force/Public domain)
The process that the U.S. Air Force used to select Huntsville, Alabama, as the new U.S. Space Command headquarters over Colorado Springs had “significant shortfalls in its transparency and credibility,” according to a long-anticipated Government Accountability Office report released Thursday.
The report found that even though the basing decision largely followed guidelines set by the secretary of defense, the lack of transparency created an appearance of bias.
“From early March 2020 through January 2021, the Air Force implemented a revised, three-phased process at the direction of the then Secretary of Defense, culminating in the selection of Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama as the preferred location. The revised process followed some elements of the established basing process, but included different steps,” said the report highlight page.
The report bolsters the contention of elected officials in Colorado from both parties that the decision to move the command from Colorado Springs to Huntsville was politically motivated.
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The GAO assessed the basing decision against 21 criteria in its analysis of alternatives — or AOA — best practices, which are grouped into four characteristics: comprehensive, well-documented, unbiased and credible. The basing decision substantially met only the comprehensive characteristic and fell short on the other three. Of the 21 criteria, the decision substantially met seven.
“Air Force officials told GAO they did not use the AOA best practices because the practices were not required or relevant to basing decisions. However, GAO believes that the AOA best practices are relevant and, if effectively implemented, can help substantiate such basing decisions, increase transparency, and avoid the presence or appearance of bias,” GAO officials said in a statement on the report release.
The basing decision only partially met the AOA best practice of ensuring impartiality. The report found that the Air Force “did not take certain steps to ensure that the decision-making process did not reflect, or appear to reflect, the validation of a predetermined solution” by forgoing the validation process through the Air Force’s Strategic Basing Panel and Strategic Basing Executive Steering Group. Instead, they relied on senior level reviews.
“Validating the U.S. Space Command basing process through the review bodies or another independent entity would have helped provide assurance that the process was not conducted with a predetermined solution in mind,” the report reads.
The question of impartiality was at the center of why Colorado politicians like Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican, asked the GAO to conduct a review of the January 2021 decision made by the Trump administration to move Space Command from Colorado Springs to Huntsville. The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan investigative body that works for Congress.
The report notes that while the Air Force documented the general rationale for Huntsville’s ultimate selection, “there was not consensus among the officials we interviewed regarding who ultimately made the decision to name Redstone Arsenal as the preferred location for U.S. Space Command headquarters, including the role of the then President in making the decision.”
The public-facing report does not include that rationale or input to deliberations at a Jan. 11, 2021 White House meeting. During that meeting, military officials actually recommended Colorado Springs as the preferred location, a detail revealed in a separate Defense Department Office of Inspector General report.
The OIG report concluded that the selection of Huntsville was done properly based on criteria defined by the Air Force.
Now that both the OIG and GAO reports are out, members of Colorado’s congressional delegation say there is evidence that the basing process lacked integrity. The GAO report made no comment about the suitability of the Huntsville location.
“We have serious concerns about how this conclusion was reached, which contradicts the military leadership’s stated goal of reaching Full Operational Capability as quickly as possible. Our national security should be the deciding factor in basing decisions,” Reps. Doug Lamborn and Jason Crow and Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper said in a joint statement.
“With the investigations now complete, the shortcomings of the Space Command basing process are fully available to the Biden Administration. We urge them to review the reports’ findings, and make a decision in consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff that prioritizes our national security and mission in space.”
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