COLORADO SPRINGS, CO — The Air Force did not follow established best practices when selecting Red Stone Arsenal, Alabama as the permanent home for US Space Command a government watchdog agency reported Thursday. A result, the decision lost transparency and credibility.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed the January 2021 basing decision at the request of Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, Congressman Doug Lamborn, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Florida Congressman Mike Waltz, the Ranking Member on the House Subcommittee on Readiness.
The report shows that Air Force leaders began the base selection process in 2018 using their own established procedures. Then in March of 2020, the Air Force abandoned that approach in favor of a revised, three-phased process at the direction of the then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
The GAO scored the new procedure using a 21-point framework of best practices known as Analysis of Alternatives (AOA). They found that the Air Force's new procedures either fully or substantially met just 7 of 21of those best practices.
The best practices were grouped into four characteristics of a high-quality AOA process but the GAO found the revised process didn't fully or substantially meet three of the four characteristics.
Officials with the Air Force told the GAO that they did not use the AOA best practices as a guide during the revised process because they weren't required or relevant to basing decisions.
However, report author Elizabeth Field, the Director of Defense Capabilities and Management for the GAO, said that her office believes the AOA best practices are relevant and can ensure that basing decisions are transparent and deliberate when effectively implemented.
"Developing basing guidance consistent with these best practices, and determining the basing actions to which it should apply, would better position the Air Force to substantiate future basing decisions and help prevent bias, or the appearance of bias, from undermining their credibility," Fields wrote.
The report also discloses that senior military leaders warned President Trump at the time that moving US Space Command from it's provisional home at Peterson Space Force Base would harm how quickly the new combatant command would reach full operational capability.
Thursday's report follows the release of another investigation into the basing decision performed by the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General.
The GAO recommended the Air Force develops guidance for future strategic basing decisions that are consistent with GAO's AOA best practices and determine the basing actions to which it should apply. The Air Force didn't agree or disagree.
Speaking with reporters Thursday, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said the GAO and DoD reports support his opinion that the basing decision was political.
"I think it's very clear that the Biden administration, from these two reports, has all the information it needs to reverse this decision," Suthers said.
He recalled a conversation he had with President Trump and local military leaders on the tarmac of Peterson Air Force Base in 2020.
"He said to them, is this where it ought to be? They said, absolutely Mr. President," Suthers recalled. "And he said, and I'm quoting here, 'well, I think we're going to wait until after the election, see how it turns out. I knew at that time we were facing a very strong possibility that this was going to be a political decision."
Senator Hickenlooper stressed the report's findings that moving the command would delay its ability to reach full operational capability will impact national security.
"Full mission readiness, right, operational capability would take significantly longer, like 3, 4, 5 years longer if they moved to Huntsville, Alabama," Hickenlooper said.
He also pointed out that the move will cost taxpayers more money.
Space Command will bring a substantial economic benefit to the community it calls home. An estimated 1,500 jobs will be created and $1 billion in military construction.
Congressman Lamborn, Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper, and Congressman Jason Crow released a joint statement in response to the GAO report.
Read the full statement below:
Over the past year, we’ve repeatedly raised concerns that the previous administration used a flawed, untested, and inconsistent process to select a location for U.S. Space Command. The reports from the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Defense Inspector General both confirm that the basing process lacked integrity and neglected key national security considerations.
We now know that in a White House meeting in January 2021, senior military leadership recommended Colorado Springs as the preferred location for Space Command due to the unique ability of Peterson Space Force Base to reach Full Operational Capability significantly faster than any other potential location, and at a significantly lower cost. However, following this meeting a different location was announced as the selection, and justified with inconsistent documentation and unclear reasoning.
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.
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.
The American people must be able to trust that this decision is objective and provides for our national security and leadership in space. Peterson remains the only and best home for U.S. Space Command.
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