House Provision Would Freeze Air Force Funding Until Biden Admin Makes Call On Space Command Headquarters

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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A provision in the House of Representatives’ first-draft annual defense bill would block certain funding for the Air Force until it makes a final call on the location of the Space Command headquarters as Alabama lawmakers tussle with the White House over the years-delayed decision.

Initial language in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2024, a draft of which was released Tuesday ahead of markup sessions, freezes ongoing construction on a Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs and half of the Air Force secretary’s travel budget until he provides Congress with a decision and a report backing up his choice. The Air Force announced plans to relocate temporary Space Command headquarters from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to a final location in Huntsville, Alabama, in 2020, but since reversed course and has stalled issuing the final call, according to Air Force Times.

The Air Force continues to review the Space Command headquarters’ location and build out plans and facilities in Colorado despite the lack of certainty on a final location, a congressional aide for Republican Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters on a press call Tuesday to discuss the bill. (RELATED: GOP Senator Blocking Pentagon Promotions Over Abortion Policy)

“We found out through the process over the last two years while we’re waiting for the Air Force [to actually] make a decision is that the Space Command and the Air Force have been signing leases and building out infrastructure in Colorado,” the aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the proposed legislation in detail, said. “The chairman wants the Air Force to make a decision.”

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall was expected to make the call months ago, Air Force Times reported.

The latest holdup may be Alabama’s more restrictive abortion laws banning the procedure in most cases, NBC News first reported in May, citing U.S. and defense officials. The White House is working to obstruct plans to house Space Command “because of the abortion issue,” one U.S. official told the outlet.

In December, the White House told the Air Force to revisit the decision process, according to NBC.

The Air Force halted plans to move Space Command to Huntsville after pushback from Colorado democrats, who claimed the decision was a form of political retaliation against the incoming Biden administration in 2020, and Colorado lawmakers requested the Air Force rethink the decision, Air Force Times reported.

However, two Air Force reviews in 2022 found no undue political pressures influenced the final decision.

The Air Force did not follow all best practices in making the decision on Space Command’s permanent location, a June 2022 report by the Government Accountability Office found. A May 2022 Inspector General investigation noted that while the Air Force adhered to relevant policies in conducting the evaluation process, some criteria may not have been appropriate for the situation.

However, Alabama lawmakers fighting for Space Command to be moved to their state say the reports reinforce the Air Force’s initial decision.

“The chairman’s view is why should you be using taxpayer dollars to build up all this infrastructure when the Air Force made a decision that has been reviewed by two different reviews and found that Huntsville, Alabama won, and won fairly,” the congressional aide said.

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