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U.S. Space Command: Air Force Should Develop Guidance for Strengthening Future Basing Decisions

GAO-22-106055 Published: Jun 02, 2022. Publicly Released: Jun 02, 2022.
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Fast Facts

We reviewed the Air Force's process for identifying the preferred location for U.S. Space Command headquarters.

We assessed the process against 21 "Analysis of Alternatives" best practices, which can help increase transparency and avoid the presence or appearance of bias.

The practices are grouped into four characteristics of a high-quality analysis: comprehensive, well-documented, unbiased, and credible. We found that the Air Force's process did not substantially meet 3 of these 4 characteristics—leading to significant shortfalls in its transparency and credibility.

We recommended establishing guidance that incorporates our best practices.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

From December 2018 through early March 2020, the Air Force largely followed its established strategic basing process to determine the preferred location for U.S. Space Command headquarters. From early March 2020 through January 2021, the Air Force implemented a revised, three-phased process at the direction of the then Secretary of Defense, culminating in the selection of Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama as the preferred location. The revised process followed some elements of the established basing process, but included different steps. For example, in its revised process, the Air Force solicited nominations from all 50 states instead of beginning with a set of candidates based on their respective ability to meet defined functional requirements.

GAO found that the Air Force's revised process fully or substantially met 7 of 21 Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) best practices it assessed. These best practices are grouped into four characteristics of a high-quality AOA process. GAO found that the revised process did not fully or substantially meet 3 of 4 characteristics.

Assessment of the Air Force's Revised Process for U.S. Space Command Basing against GAO's Four Characteristics of an Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) Process

Assessment of the Air Force's Revised Process for U.S. Space Command Basing against GAO's Four Characteristics of an Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) Process

Note: Characteristic ratings are the average of individual best practice scores. For best practices, Not Met = 1, Minimally Met = 2, Partially Met =3, Substantially Met = 4, and Fully Met = 5. For characteristics, Not Met = 1.0 to 1.4, Minimally Met = 1.5 to 2.4, Partially Met = 2.5 to 3.4, Substantially Met = 3.5 to 4.4, and Fully Met = 4.5 to 5.0.

Air Force officials told GAO they did not use the AOA best practices as a guide during the revised process because the practices were not required or relevant to basing decisions. However, GAO believes that the AOA best practices are relevant and, if effectively implemented, can help ensure such basing decisions are transparent and deliberate. Developing basing guidance consistent with these best practices, and determining the basing actions to which it should apply, would better position the Air Force to substantiate future basing decisions and help prevent bias, or the appearance of bias, from undermining their credibility.

Why GAO Did This Study

The then President directed the establishment of U.S. Space Command in December 2018. The Department of Defense (DOD) views the advent of U.S. Space Command as a critical step to accelerate the nation's ability to defend its vital interests and deter adversaries in space. U.S. Space Command is responsible for planning and executing offensive and defensive space operations with the military services, other combatant commands, DOD agencies, and other partners.

GAO was asked to review the Air Force's process and methodology to select the permanent location for U.S. Space Command headquarters. This report (1) examines how the U.S. Space Command basing process compared with the established Air Force basing process and describes the steps the Air Force took to identify a headquarters location, and (2) evaluates the extent to which the Air Force's revised selection process for determining the U.S. Space Command headquarters conformed to GAO best practices for analyzing alternatives.

GAO reviewed documentation, interviewed knowledgeable officials, and assessed related information using GAO's best practices for a high-quality AOA process. This is a public version of a sensitive report issued in May 2022. Information that DOD has deemed sensitive has been omitted.

Recommendations

GAO recommends that the Air Force develop guidance for future strategic basing decisions that is consistent with GAO's AOA best practices, and determine the basing actions to which it should apply. The Air Force neither agreed nor disagreed.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should ensure the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment develops guidance for future strategic basing decisions that is consistent with GAO's Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) best practices, and determines the basing actions to which it should apply. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
The Air Force neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. On December 20, 2022, the Air Force stated that the department is developing guidance to identify appropriate basing actions and elements of the GAO analysis of alternatives methodology that will strengthen future basing decisions. The Air Force projected a completion date of March 31, 2023. Subsequently, in July 2023, the Air Force revised its completion date to October 16, 2023, due to sensitivities related to the U.S. Space Command basing decision - which had not been finalized. In January 2024, the Air Force revised the completion date to July 1, 2024. In March 2024, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment issued a memo directing the Air Force Strategic Basing Office to examine the GAO Analysis of Alternatives best practices and include them as appropriate for complex basing decisions. These complex basing decisions may include new mission types or basing actions involving multiple higher headquarters equities. Additionally, the memo states that basing actions requiring Secretary of Air Force approval will include an independent review of cost estimates established during site surveys. Furthermore, all mission sustainment risk assessments conducted during the basing process will be documented as part of the basing action. Finally, the memo directs the Air Force Strategic Basing Office to update Department of the Air Force Instruction 10-503, Strategic Basing, to include these directions for use of the GAO Analysis of Alternatives best practices. Based on these actions taken by the Air Force in response to our recommendation, we have closed the recommendation as implemented.

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Topics

Agency evaluationsAnalysis of alternativesBest practicesCombatant commandsCommunicationsCost estimatesLife cycle costsMilitary forcesSpace operationsMilitary bases