Republican and Democratic members of Congress from Alabama submitted a draft House bill late last week that would block funding for the continued growth of U.S. Space Command's temporary headquarters in Colorado, according to documents reviewed by NBC News.
Two congressional officials said the bill would prohibit the command from spending money on constructing, leasing or modernizing facilities until the secretary of the Air Force formally selects and publicly announces the location of its permanent headquarters, which the Trump administration said would be in Huntsville, Alabama.
NBC News reported this month that Biden administration officials have signaled privately to Defense Department leaders and lawmakers that they are considering reversing the planned move to Alabama over concerns about the state’s strict anti-abortion laws. Since the Trump administration announced in January 2021 that the headquarters would be in Huntsville, there has been a series of reviews and investigations of what has become a fraught, politically contentious process.
Air Force and defense officials also say that Space Command is on track to be fully operational by the end of this summer, months ahead of their last public statement, which said would not occur until the end of 2023.
Last week, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall met with members of Alabama's congressional delegation to discuss the location of the permanent headquarters. Several members of the delegation were surprised when Kendall disclosed that the command is continuing to expand its facilities in Colorado. Space Command is leasing at least two buildings there, according to three defense and congressional officials. The length of the leases has not been made public.
After the members objected, Kendall said the command's commander, Army Gen. James Dickinson, approved spending the money on leases and that he, as Air Force secretary, has little power to stop him. Now, the members of Congress from Alabama hope to cut off Dickinson’s funding to prevent him from continuing to lease space in Colorado.
Alabama lawmakers are concerned that the Biden administration and the Air Force have slowed the process with the goal of building a fully operational headquarters in Colorado and then arguing that a move would result in a pause in Space Command operations.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican who represents Colorado Springs and has Peterson Space Force Base in his district, made that argument on Twitter last week. He contended that moving the headquarters to Alabama would prevent Space Command from reaching full operational capability for “four to six years.”
“U.S. Space Command is months away from full operational capability (FOC) at Peterson Space Force Base,” he wrote. “We cannot afford a self-imposed delay in FOC given the threats posed by China and Russia.”
Air Force Secretary Kendall also informed the Alabama lawmakers at their meeting about “fundamental changes” being made to the3 command’s headquarters requirements that could affect the decision about its final location, according to a letter released Thursday by the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mike Rogers, R-Ala.
Kendall said the changes came from Dickinson and were not directed by the Pentagon or others in the Biden administration. Kendall added that he is conducting his own investigation into the changes in the headquarters parameters and other “irregularities.” He told members of Congress that he is weeks away from finishing his review but did not commit to publicly sharing the results.
A spokesperson for the Air Force confirmed that Space Command has issued new requirements for its permanent headquarters. “The Department of the Air Force recently received additional information from the Commander, U.S. Space Command, which will require additional analysis before a final decision can be made for the permanent location of U.S. Space Command headquarters,” the spokesperson said.
Rogers, meanwhile, has launched an House Armed Services Committee investigation of the headquarters location selection process. He has directed Kendall and Dickinson to provide all documents related to any change in mission or headquarters requirements for the command since President Joe Biden took office, all documents about leasing or construction of facilities for Space Command and all communications from the Biden administration about changes to the headquarters. Rogers asked that all the materials be produced by June 8.
“It is advisable for SPACECOM to cease and desist from any action that implicates taxpayer funds in a scheme to alter the mission or headquarters requirements of SPACECOM without civilian order of oversight,” Rogers said.