Governor urges Biden administration to keep Space Command, US lands agency in Colorado

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In this Jan. 29, 2021, file photo, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis holds a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis is urging the Biden administration to keep the headquarters of two key U.S. government agencies in Colorado, arguing the U.S. Space Command and the Bureau of Land Management serve the nation’s interests better if they stay where they are.

Polis’ office released a letter Thursday urging Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to review the Donald Trump administration’s Jan. 13 announcement — just a week before Trump’s term ended — that the new U.S. Space Command headquarters will be in Huntsville, Alabama, home to the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal. The command provisionally is located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

The Air Force announcement stunned Colorado leaders, who insisted U.S. military officials had urged then-President Trump to keep the command at Peterson. After meeting with Polis before a campaign rally in Colorado Springs in February 2020, Trump himself strongly hinted to rousing cheers that the command would stay put.

“Without a review, this hasty decision will undermine our country’s ability to respond to national security threats in space,” Polis wrote in the letter dated Monday and co-signed by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera and several state lawmakers. “We have concerns about the transparency, impartiality, and bias of the process that the previous administration used when coming to a final decision,” it said.

An email requesting comment from the Defense Department wasn’t immediately answered.

Some suggested politics may have been at play in the decision: Trump won Alabama in the November election and Joe Biden won Colorado. Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, who represents Colorado Springs, asked the General Accounting Office this week to review the Air Force decision.

“Many questions have been raised as to whether the decision was made on objective rather than political grounds,” Lamborn said in a statement.

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Among other duties, the Space Command enables satellite-based navigation and troop communication and provides warning of missile launches. Also based at Peterson are the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, and the U.S. Northern Command.

The Space Command differs from the U.S. Space Force, launched in December 2019 as the first new military service since the Air Force was created in 1947. The Space Command is not an individual military service but a central command for military-wide space operations. It operated at Peterson from 1985 until it was dissolved in 2002 and was revived in 2019.

Huntsville was chosen after Air Force site visits to Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas competing for the command headquarters. The Huntsville decision is subject to environmental review, expected by 2023.

Polis also urged President Joe Biden to keep the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction. The Trump administration moved the headquarters of the agency from Washington, D.C., to Colorado, arguing it would better serve the agency’s oversight of nearly 388,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers) of federal public land — 99 percent of it in the West.

“I implore you to think of this as an opportunity for better communication, better policy and better government, rather than just associating this with the many other misguided legacies of your predecessor,” the Democratic governor wrote.

Last year, the GAO faulted the Trump administration for failing to involve BLM employees in its plans to reorganize the bureau’s headquarters staff. The bureau, part of the Interior Department, has about 10,000 employees, most of them in field offices in the West.

Interior planned to move more than 320 headquarters jobs from Washington to Grand Junction — but only 41 people moved, and 287 others either retired or found new jobs rather than move between July 2019 and December, Interior spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said Jan. 28. Some 100 out of 480 Washington headquarters positions were vacant, Schwartz said.

“The Interior Department’s new leadership will work with BLM career staff to understand the ramifications of the headquarters move and determine if any adjustments need to be made,” she said.

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