WASHINGTON ― House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., this week approved several Pentagon budget reprogramming requests related to troop pay, after a delay forced the Air Force to suspend some bonuses.
However, Rogers told Defense News he will still hold up numerous other reprogramming requests to protest the Air Force’s failure to make a long-overdue decision whether to base U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado or his home state of Alabama.
“The hold doesn’t apply to anything to do with compensation,” Rogers said July 18.
Military Times first reported last week the House Armed Services Committee’s delay in approving a routine reprogramming request for the Pentagon to shift funds between accounts was forcing the Air Force to postpone some permanent change of station moves, selective reenlistment bonuses and other cash incentives for airmen.
The holdup prompted the Pentagon and Air Force to each circulate sets of talking points to congressional offices last week. The Air Force memo, obtained by Defense News, noted the shortfall is “driven by higher than projected personnel costs.”
The Pentagon customarily addresses these shortfalls by bundling reprogramming requests that move funds from accounts with surpluses to accounts with deficits. Top lawmakers on the armed services and appropriations committees in each chamber must then sign off on them.
The Defense Department submitted its reprogramming request to preserve airmen’s compensation in May. The Senate Armed Services Committee and both appropriations panels had already signed off on it, but Rogers did not do so until this week.
“The committee has approved reprogramming requests related to military personnel and continues to review additional reprogramming requests from the Department of Defense,” Rogers’ spokeswoman, Justine Sanders, said in a statement Tuesday.
But the May reprogramming request contained several other, non-personnel-related reprogramming requests, including $150 million in modernization funds for the Puget Sound shipyard in Washington state. Rogers and other committee leaders can approve the reprogramming items piecemeal, and it’s unclear whether he’ll approve projects that don’t affect troop compensation.
Further complicating matters, the Pentagon submitted another, larger reprogramming request June 30. The Pentagon usually submits a bundle of reprogramming requests every year on this date; the document can take weeks to review.
Congress typically approves the request in September just before the end of the fiscal year. Both the House and Senate Armed Services committees are still reviewing the June 30 request.
The 64-page June 30 request, posted online by Punchbowl News, includes numerous budget reprogramming items pending approval. That includes more Puget Sound modernization funds, specifically $132 million for dry docks “to mitigate the risk of seismic activity while nuclear vessels are under maintenance in those facilities.”
While Rogers has made it clear he will not hold requests affecting compensation, it remains to be seen which of the hundreds of other reprogramming items — if any — he will approve from the May and June requests.
The Alabama and Colorado congressional delegations are engaged in an increasingly acrimonious fight over the Space Command basing decision amid the Air Force’s refusal to make an expeditious decision.
Two years ago, during the final days of the Trump administration, the Air Force announced Huntsville, Alabama — the site of the Army’s Redstone Arsenal and home to the Missile Defense Agency — would serve as the new location for Space Command headquarters, moving it from its provisional location in Colorado Springs.
The decision infuriated Colorado’s congressional delegation, who asked the Air Force to review the decision. Several Colorado Democrats argued it was an act of political retaliation because President Joe Biden won the swing state in the 2020 election.
The Air Force has yet to make a final decision despite the two-year review.
Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., released a statement last week saying Rogers’ hold on “routinely allocating funds is dangerous and harmful.”
“The Alabama delegation is holding our military service members hostage,” said Hickenlooper. “They are risking our national security to get what they want.”
The Colorado delegation is finding itself outgunned on the congressional Armed Services and appropriations committees.
House Republican Doug Lamborn, who represents the Colorado Springs district where the temporary Space Command facility is located, failed to undo a provision on the issue from Rogers when the Armed Services Committee considered the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act last month.
Rogers’ provision halts military construction on the temporary Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs until Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall submits a report justifying its final location. It would also freeze half of Kendall’s travel budget until Congress receives the justification and decision.
The House narrowly passed the defense bill July 14 with Rogers’ Space Command provision intact. Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and inserted the same provision in the upper chamber’s defense bill, which senators began debating on the floor this week.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.