A recommendation in January by the Air Force to move the U.S. Space Command from its headquarters in Colorado to an Alabama Army post was a surprise to many.
“I thought we had a great shot,” said Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, director of military and veteran affairs for the City of San Antonio. “The second surprise was that Alabama was picked.”
Late last year, San Antonio was one of six cities in the running to house the operational command of the U.S. Space Force – and reap the economic benefits. The selection of Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville was disappointing for the San Antonio delegation that met with Pentagon officials and hosted the selection team, promoting Port San Antonio as the ideal site.
But two reviews of the decision to award the command to the Huntsville base could indicate a glimmer of hope for San Antonio once again.
Colorado officials who hoped to retain the command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs denounced the decision to award it to Alabama, and in February, the Pentagon’s inspector general said it would open an investigation into the basis for selecting Huntsville. Then on March 19, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) also confirmed it would review the methodology that led to the decision, handed down during the waning days of the Trump administration.
“So you’ve got two major organizations looking into this [and] it’s a serious look,” Ayala said. “There’s a lot of speculation out there that this was a political decision.”
As a former inspector general for the Marine Corps, Ayala said he’s familiar with the process for such a review, including whether the selection team complied with directives and considered each location objectively. The process could take up to six months, but may finish sooner because it’s a Department of Defense (DoD) priority, Ayala said.
It could also lead to yet another round of evaluations. San Antonio was named a finalist only after the initial base evaluation process was scrapped and restarted earlier in the year.
“They might say, ‘Let’s relook at everything again,’ which is OK, but I just want to make sure that it was fair and objective,” Ayala said.
Since the selection was announced, Air Force leaders delivered a report on how each city measured up according to the set of criteria they used to select the Space Command headquarters site.
“So if we go back and challenge [the selection decision], which I think we will …. we’ll challenge it on some of the issues or some of the criteria that we were not rated highly,” Ayala said.
Besides Redstone and Peterson, the other candidates were Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Patrick Air Force Base, Florida; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The San Antonio delegation proposed Port San Antonio for its capacity to meet infrastructure, workforce, collaboration, and security needs.
Of the 21 total criteria for the six cities under consideration, San Antonio scored in the bottom third of the group in eight indicators; in the middle third in five indicators, and in the top third in eight indicators. Read the full report here.
San Antonio came out on top in rankings for medical support, cost of living, housing affordability, quality of schools, veteran support, and communications bandwidth. But the city was graded low in areas such as the space for a sizable facility, the time and cost for infrastructure to be built, and available qualified workforce.
However, Port San Antonio offered the DoD a less expensive building option “without all the red tape that goes with a military construction project,” Ayala said. He also questions the ranking on available workforce.
“That’s hard for us to believe,” he said. In addition to having the largest joint base in the DoD, San Antonio is home to the Air Force’s cybersecurity operation and 11 universities. “We have a pretty robust workforce already here.”
Neither the inspector general nor the GAO have contacted City officials to discuss the process, which Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) called “fundamentally flawed.” Though Texas lawmakers endorsed San Antonio during the process, they have yet to push back on a final decision that’s now appearing less certain.
“It’s not over,” Ayala said.