A Colorado Democrat is threatening to hold up nominees for the Pentagon's top positions because Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has declined to meet and discuss the decision to move U.S. Space Command headquarters from his home state to Alabama.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., voted against confirming Brendan Owens as assistant secretary of defense for energy and installations on Monday evening, as the Senate works to put President Joe Biden's nominees in place at the Pentagon.
"The [Pentagon] has repeatedly ignored my request for a meeting with Secretary Austin about the Space Command basing decision," Bennet tweeted Monday. "For that reason, I voted against Brendan Owens' nomination tonight, and will consider holds on other Pentagon nominees until a meeting takes place."
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Fellow Colorado Democrat, Sen. John Hickenlooper, joined Bennet in opposing Owens. The two have been pushing for answers on the long-delayed decision on whether the headquarters for U.S. Space Command will remain in Colorado Springs, Colorado, or move to Huntsville, Alabama, a saga that has been drawn out since the waning days of President Donald Trump's administration.
Subsequent watchdog reports analyzing the choice to move Space Command headquarters did not point to any major issues with Huntsville as a location for the base, but did scrutinize the process for choosing the location.
When asked about Bennet's threat to push back against nominees, Oscar Seára, a Pentagon spokesperson, told Military.com "it's not appropriate for us to comment on congressional actions or individual members' motives, even if they involve [the Department of Defense]."
Military.com learned Wednesday that Bennet's office has since been in communication with the Pentagon following the senator's vote against Owens. The Trump-era call to move Space Command headquarters has been dragging on for two years, with a final decision -- supposedly -- right around the corner.
An environmental study, one of the final steps required before a decision could be made, has been completed and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall will make the ultimate decision — an approval which department officials have said for months is coming soon.
U.S. Space Command, which is responsible for military operations related to space, was reactivated in August 2019 and temporarily run from Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs.
In January 2021, under Trump's administration, the Department of the Air Force said that the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, had been selected as the preferred location for Space Command's permanent headquarters.
Since that announcement, members of Colorado's congressional delegation in Washington have been fighting back to have that decision reviewed in hopes of keeping the base, as well as 1,400 jobs and millions of dollars of economic impact, in their home state.
In August 2021, while speaking on an Alabama radio show, Trump said the move was his decision, which sparked speculation that the former president may have intervened in the process for choosing the base, something that could have given ammunition to legal challenges.
"Space Force -- I sent to Alabama," Trump told the "Rick & Bubba" radio show at the time. "I hope you know that. [They] said they were looking for a home, and I single-handedly said, 'Let's go to Alabama.' They wanted it. I said, 'Let's go to Alabama. I love Alabama.'"
Two watchdog reports, requested by members of Colorado's delegation in Washington, followed.
This past May, the findings of a Department of Defense inspector general's report said that, while the selection process was marred by shoddy record-keeping, the ultimate decision to choose Huntsville was "reasonable."
This past June, the Government Accountability Office released a report that the move of U.S. Space Command headquarters from Colorado to Alabama was driven by an unorganized and unclear process.
While the report did not comment on or analyze whether the decision to ultimately choose Huntsville as the home of Space Command was acceptable, the congressional watchdog organization did express concerns about "significant shortfalls in its transparency and credibility," as well as the "appearance of bias" in the decision.
The Government Accountability Office report also did not address whether Trump, or any senior military official, was responsible for the ultimate selection of Redstone Arsenal.
The Supreme Court's ruling this past June to overturn Roe v. Wade -- known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization -- has also been seen as potentially impacting the decision to move Space Command from Colorado to Alabama.
Moving Space Command from Colorado, where abortion access is unrestricted, to Alabama, where it is illegal with limited exceptions, could change the quality of life for service members assigned to the command, as well as harm the military's retention efforts, Bennet previously told Military.com.
"I'm deeply concerned about how the Dobbs decision and state abortion bans will affect Space Command's workforce and readiness if the command leaves Colorado," Bennet said in an emailed statement to Military.com in August.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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