Air Force and Space Force leaders are being called to testify publicly before Congress as an outraged House chairman investigates the decision to keep the U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado rather than moving it to his home state of Alabama.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., announced Tuesday that he has invited Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, Space Command chief Gen. James Dickinson and Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman to testify before his committee about the Space Command basing decision.
The invitation is the latest step in an investigation Rogers first opened in May as the decision on where to base Space Command's headquarters languished for more than two years after the Air Force first said Huntsville, Alabama, was the "preferred" location.
"When the secretary of the Air Force finally made a decision, he upheld his predecessors' decision to base U.S. Space Command in Huntsville, Alabama," Rogers contended in his statement Tuesday. "President Biden then usurped the Air Force secretary's authority and named Colorado Springs the permanent basing site for U.S. Space Command in order to improve his political standing for next year's re-election.
"We will get answers on President Biden's political manipulation of the selection process," he added.
Kendall had said for months prior to Biden's announcement that additional analysis was needed to decide whether U.S. Space Command should move to Alabama or remain in Colorado -- and that the decision was his to make.
When the announcement was made, Kendall said in a statement, "I fully support the president's decision."
The Air Force did not respond to a request for comment by Military.com's deadline on whether officials would accept Rogers' invitation to testify or on the allegation that Biden overruled Kendall.
The Pentagon announced late last month that Biden decided to base Space Command at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado, keeping the command where it has been temporarily based since launching in 2019. That overturned an announcement made in the waning days of the Trump administration that it would move to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.
The Biden administration maintains that the decision was about avoiding disruptions to Space Command's operations during a time of global instability, steadfastly denying any accusations of political interference.
In choosing Colorado over Alabama, the administration made powerful enemies among Alabama's congressional delegation. In addition to Rogers using his perch atop the Armed Services Committee to investigate the decision, Alabama lawmakers on the House Appropriations and Oversight committees have also vowed to use their positions to try to reverse the decision.
Rogers' invitation for public testimony comes after he threatened to issue a subpoena if the Air Force did not hand over documents about the Space Command decision and Kendall and Dickinson did not sit for closed-door testimony.
It's unclear if a subpoena is still a possibility or if Rogers sees the Air Force as being cooperative now. A committee spokesperson has not commented on the record in response to Military.com's questions about the status of a subpoena.
Rogers isn't the only one probing the circumstances of U.S. Space Command's basing decision.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall wrote a letter to the Government Accountability Office on Thursday where he called on the congressional watchdog agency to "investigate the process to select the Colorado location with at least as much thoroughness as you did with the initial selection of the Huntsville location."
Marshall also included an allegation that Dickinson may have had personal motivations tied into the basing decision, citing the deed to a $1.5 million ranch in Colorado that Alabama officials were not aware of.
"In April 2023, Gen. Dickinson registered a deed to a $1.5 million, 20-acre ranch near the Colorado headquarters location," Marshall's letter states. "It is unknown whether General Dickinson disclosed his personal interests in the Colorado site to President Biden or any other superiors."
Dickinson, who is from Estes Park, Colorado, is a 1985 graduate of Colorado State University and also earned a master's degree from the Colorado School of Mines, according to an Army biography.
U.S. Space Command's public affairs office did not immediately return a request for comment by Military.com’s deadline asking about the allegation in Marshall's letter.
Biden has already nominated Dickinson's successor, Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, as the new chief of U.S. Space Command. He awaits confirmation, alongside more than 300 officers who are all stymied by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who has continued a hold on all high-level officer promotions in the Senate in protest of the Pentagon's policy allowing troops leave for civilian abortion services, leading to uncertainty when the Space Force officer will be approved for his next post.
The fight to claim Space Command -- and the 1,400 jobs and millions of dollars of economic boon that come with housing a major military command -- has grown into an increasingly bitter competition between the Alabama and Colorado congressional delegations.
While the fight has tinges of red state vs. blue state politics, it has also transcended party lines as parochial interests outweigh partisan loyalties. The lone Democrat on Alabama's congressional delegation, Rep. Terri Sewell, has expressed disappointment in Biden's decision, while Republicans in Colorado who are typically harsh Biden critics have praised it.
Alabama lawmakers' charge of political interference in the basing decision echoes the arguments of Colorado lawmakers who pushed Biden to reverse the Trump administration's decision.
Colorado lawmakers alleged that former President Donald Trump gave Space Command to Alabama as a reward for supporting him. Trump himself said in 2021 that he "single-handedly" chose Alabama.
Two government watchdog investigations into the Trump administration's decision did not uncover or identify any major issues with Huntsville as a location for the base, though they did critique the Air Force's decision-making process.
Now, Alabama lawmakers' allegations of political interference revolve around abortion politics. Alabama almost entirely outlaws abortion, while Colorado has no restrictions on abortion access.
Colorado Democrats had pointed to abortion access as part of their arguments for keeping Space Command in their state, but the Air Force has denied state laws on reproductive health care factored into the decision.
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.
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