Editorial: Space Command decision again under shadow
From The Decatur Daily
The U.S. General Accounting Office has released its report on the decision to move the U.S. Space Command from its provisional home in Colorado to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.
Despite what some state and local officials would have you believe, the report is not a vindication of the decision, made under the administration of President Donald Trump, to place Space Command’s permanent headquarters in Alabama. Far from it. It opens the door for President Joe Biden’s administration to revisit the issue. Huntsville is not out of the woods yet.
Space Command is the Air Force division that oversees satellite-based navigation and troop communication and provides warning of missile launches. It’s not to be confused with the U.S. Space Force, which President Donald Trump spun out of the Air Force into its own service branch.
According to an Associated Press summary, the GAO report released Thursday found that the Air Force “abruptly changed its procedures to select a permanent headquarters for the U.S. Space Command during the election year of 2020, which led to it choosing heavily Republican Alabama over Democrat-dominated Colorado after a White House meeting.”
Meeting participants “had conflicting recollections of who picked Alabama over Colorado,” AP reported. “But in selecting the base’s move to Alabama, the decision went against the recommendations of the U.S. Space Command combatant commander, the U.S. Space Force chief of Space Operations and the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They had recommended that the operation remain in Colorado.”
Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby acted as if the GAO report didn’t say what any neutral observer could read for himself, tweeting: “Pleased that the @USGAO Space Command report reiterates what the IG report said last month. The @USAirForce followed strict criteria when they evaluated and selected Huntsville. I agree that Huntsville was the right pick for the job.”
“Strict criteria” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. The criteria may have been strict, but they were also suspect.
“GAO found that while the Air Force’s revised basing process was comprehensive, it was also biased, not credible and not sufficiently documented,” reported Defense News. “The agency took issue with the service’s lack of documented ground rules, assumptions and constraints and found it failed to conduct key sensitive analysis and independent reviews.
“For example, the report notes the service didn’t apply consistent weighting criteria when it chose between the six finalists.”
Alabama lawmakers and Huntsville officials glossed over all of this, claiming the report ruled out political interference (it didn’t) and reaffirmed that Redstone led in all the site criteria (the criteria the report found inconsistent).
The GAO report couldn’t rule out political interference because the report couldn’t even determine who made the final decision.
“Although the Air Force documented the general rationale for selecting Redstone Arsenal in an action memorandum and accompanying documents, 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 report says.
But it just so happens the headquarters went from a state that had just voted overwhelmingly for Biden to one that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.
Colorado lawmakers have requested that the Biden administration reconsider the Space Command move. We’re not sure what Biden will do, but Huntsville had better hope the current president isn’t as interested in settling scores as the last was.