Congressional negotiators on Tuesday dropped a provision from the annual defense bill that would have postponed any work toward moving U.S. Space Command from Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama, pending completion of two investigations into the decision.
Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees agreed on a final version of the $768 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2022 but omitted an amendment by Colorado Springs U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn before advancing the bill to a vote of the full House late Tuesday, where it passed, 363-70.
The bill heads to the Senate, where it's expected to pass with bipartisan support.
Lamborn, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Colorado Politics that he is disappointed the legislation doesn't include his amendment but added that the move "is not fatal" to bipartisan efforts to prevent uprooting the command, which oversees all American military missions in orbit.
Lamborn said he remains hopeful that concurrent reviews of the decision-making process by the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon's Inspector General could lead to re-examining plans to relocate U.S. Space Command headquarters and its 1,400 troops.
"It was a precaution," he said. "We’re still going forward with the two investigations, which should be done in the first quarter or first half of next year. Even if they wanted to move ahead in Huntsville before that, they wouldn’t be able to get very far because they’re still doing their environmental assessments."
Added Lamborn: "We’re waiting with great anticipation to the outcomes of the two investigations right now. As much as I’d like to hurry them along, I want them to do a thorough job and leave no stone unturned. There’s not much that we can do to accelerate the process right now."
Former President Donald Trump said on Jan. 13 that the command would move to Huntsville from Colorado Springs, where it was re-established in 2019 and will remain until at least 2026.
Trump's announcement came under immediate fire from Colorado politicians from both parties, who suggested the choice was politically motivated — a contention supported by remarks Trump made on a radio show in August when he claimed he "single-handedly" picked Alabama for the command's new home. The statement contradicted Pentagon statements that Huntsville won out in an independent process that weighed Colorado Springs and other potential headquarters sites without regard to political considerations.
The Trump administration re-established U.S. Space Command in 2019 to confront rising threats to U.S. spacecraft from Russia and China. An earlier version of the command had been headquartered at the recently renamed Peterson Space Force Base but was shuttered in 2001 as part of post-Cold War cutbacks to military spending. Some retired generals and other experts have warned that the move could disrupt America's defense of military satellites.
Lamborn said he is also disappointed that the final version of the defense bill didn't include an amendment he sponsored with U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a Centennial Democrat, to establish a Space National Guard, but added that he believes it's only a matter of time and could be part of next year's legislation.
"It’s not a perfect bill," Lamborn said, calling it "unfortunate" that it includes policy provisions proposed by the Biden administration that he disagrees with.
"Any time you have a Democratic administration, it’s going to have some problematic amendments. We fought some of them off. But standing back and looking at our nation’s defense, we have to pass this bill," Lamborn said. "We start to — more than ever — address the China threat and the Russian threat."
Lamborn noted that, in addition to missile defense and nuclear modernization, the bill authorizes $300 million in security assistance and intelligence support to Ukraine, including $75 million in lethal assistance.
"Hopefully, that makes the Russians think twice about invading Ukraine," he said.
Lamborn also hailed inclusion of an amendment he sponsored that allows active duty troops to claim additional exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates on medical, religious and philosophical grounds, as well as if they've had a previous infection and have antibodies.
"I don’t want people to be separated from our armed services willy-nilly when it’s so hard to get people in the first place," Lamborn said, noting that he's heard stories about military personnel being discharged for refusing to be vaccinated.