DENVER — U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin paid a visit to Colorado Springs this week to take a tour of the temporary headquarters for the U.S. Space Command.
The defense secretary discussed the program’s space strategy and contributions to national space security during his visit, which was closed off to the media.
The visit comes as politicians on a local, state and federal level renew their push for Space Command to remain in Colorado. In January, then President Donald Trump announced the department would be moved to Huntsville, Alabama, a move that has since been criticized as being politically motivated.
Efforts on a local level
For months, Colorado Springs mayor John Suthers has been trying to make his case for why the Space Command should stay in his city. Most recently, Suthers and other local officials sent a letter to the secretary of defense urging for the Biden administration to reconsider the move.
“Colorado Springs has really from the outset been the epicenter of military space,” Suthers said.
Suthers said he spoke with Trump three times before the decision to move the department was announced, and each time the former president said he would make a final decision after the election.
“When he was here for a rally, he basically taunted the crowd saying, ‘Hey, I understand you want Space Force, I’ll decide after the election,’ kind of suggesting it may depend on the outcome of the election,” Suthers said. “We feel pretty confident that ultimately this was a political issue.”
Suthers questions the criteria that was used to rank Colorado Springs in comparison to Huntsville and has asked for clarification on why his city ranked low in some areas like long-term economic viability, utility, reliability and more.
In fact, he downright disagrees with some of the assessments made on schools, health care and access to civilian airports. He says he has been pushing back to have the areas reassessed.
The city has also offered numerous incentives to keep Space Command put, including free land and reduced utility rates. The city was also able to secure grants to expand a childcare facility and offer the state’s first civilian astronautical engineering program through the university.
In total, Suthers estimates that the incentives package from the city was worth $100 million.
“I can’t believe they’re really going to want to spend $3 billion to move this when everything is operating as it should in Colorado Springs, and there will be no disruption,” he said.
He doesn’t believe a potential move is as much about losing current jobs but future gains the city could see if Space Command stays.
Efforts on a state level
On a state level, Colorado lawmakers are also doing what they can to convince the Biden administration to allow the department to stay
“We really were the perfect fit for space force to be headquartered here, and it’s basically a branch of the Air Force at this point,” said Rep. Mike Lynch, R-Wellington.
One small move they hope could make a big difference comes down to the wording in state statues. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is making quick work of a bill to change a line of state law to officially recognize the Space Force as a branch of the National Guard.
Adding the Space National Guard in existing statute would allow the Air National Guard space units to transition to the Space National Guard once the federal government establishes the Space National Guard, something that could put Colorado ahead of other states.
“The bill that I put forward allows us to be literally the first in the nation to accept space Force National Guard troops. It’s very good for our state because we already have a majority of the Space Force folks,” Lynch said. “We’re hoping that this leads us to potentially getting space force back.”
Lynch is a West Point graduate and an Army veteran and says nothing is set in stone yet for a potential move. He says Colorado Springs already has the infrastructure to house the department permanently, so now it’s just convincing the new administration to let it stay. Part of that could also mean state economic incentives that he believes could pay off in dividends.
“Anything we can do from the state House to try to encourage that agency to come to our state would mean millions, if not billions, of dollars in revenue, and it really plays in with our industry that’s already here,” Lynch said.
Efforts on a federal level
On a federal level, both Democrats and Republicans from Colorado are also renewing their push to look into the decision for a move.
During a U.S. House Armed Services subcommittee hearing last week, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, repeatedly questioned Gen. James Dickinson, the commander of Space Command, about the motive of the move and whether it made sense.
“If the military was told to put Space Command in a cornfield in Iowa, they could do it. We can do whatever we want, but why do you want to when it’s working so well where it is right now,” he said.
He also challenged Dickinson to explain how such a costly move would make sense fiscally.
Meanwhile, U.S. senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet have lead the calls in recent months for an investigation into the decision to move.
“If we can just get the real facts, I believe they will demonstrate that space command should stay in Colorado Springs,” Hickenlooper said.
Those calls have resulted in two federal investigations currently underway, one by the Department of Defense Inspector General and one by the Government Accountability Office.
Hickenlooper wants to know whether there were irregularities in the scoring methods for the different cities or whether the scores changed over time as the Trump administration came closer to making a final decision about the move.
“Space Command has been here for so long that it just drives me crazy that they would even consider it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any clear reason, not a single reason why Space Command would be better off or our country would be better off with Space Command in Alabama.”
Hickenlooper called the potential move one of the most frustrating circumstances he’s encountered during his 20 years in government, saying it’s an egregious example of big government trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist and spending billions to do it.
Still, he remains optimistic and says he looks forward to making his case to the new secretary of the Air Force as soon as he can get a chance.
For now, the future of Space Command remains as uncertain as ever as Colorado’s full political force fights to keep the department in the state.