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HASC hold on DOD reprogramming draws ire of Colorado Dems

An interstate squabble over U.S. Space Command's headquarters has spilled over to the Pentagon's request to shift funds between accounts

Members of Colorado's delegation maintain that House Armed Services Chairman Mike D. Rogers is holding up DOD reprogramming requests to force a decision on where to headquarter U.S. Space Command.
Members of Colorado's delegation maintain that House Armed Services Chairman Mike D. Rogers is holding up DOD reprogramming requests to force a decision on where to headquarter U.S. Space Command. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Defense Department has warned lawmakers that an ongoing hold on all of its current reprogramming requests is impacting thousands of airmen, and could endanger the military’s long-term recruiting goals, according to an internal memo obtained by CQ Roll Call. 

The memo, prepared by the Pentagon and circulated to some congressional offices, says the hold on the department’s reprogramming requests — which amount to several hundred million dollars — is coming directly from the House Armed Services Committee. 

Moreover, some lawmakers allege the hold is coming from the panel’s chairman, Alabama Republican Mike D. Rogers, as a way to pressure the Air Force to make a long-awaited decision on whether U.S. Space Command will be headquartered in his home state. 

In January 2021, just before President Joe Biden took office, the Trump administration decided to relocate the headquarters to Alabama. A subsequent report from the Government Accountability Office found no fault with the decision, but the Biden administration has put the move on hold while it reviews the issue, angering the Alabama delegation while giving Colorado hope that it would be reversed.

On Wednesday, members of the Colorado delegation — who represent the state where Space Command’s HQ is currently based — said in a press release that Rogers’ decision to not approve hundreds of millions of dollars in reprogramming requests was “outrageous.”

“This legislative hostage-taking is unconscionable and must stop,” they said. The statement was signed by Colorado Democrats Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, alongside Reps. Joe Neguse, Diana DeGette, Brittany Pettersen, Yadira Caraveo, and Jason Crow

A congressional aide with knowledge of the situation also said the hold was coming directly from Rogers, but did not specify why. 

In an email, Rogers said the statement from the Colorado delegation was a “misrepresentation of the HASC processes,” and that his panel was “continuing to review” reprogramming requests from the Pentagon. 

In an interview on Thursday, the panel’s ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash., said that Rogers’ hold was due to the basing decision. 

“I don’t blame him,” Smith said. “They’ve waited way too long to make a decision on this.”

And according to the Pentagon’s own memo, the hold is ongoing, and challenging the department’s ability to fund several key programs. 

“Under the HASC’s current reprogramming hold, all three Military Departments will be constrained before the end of the fiscal year in their ability to fund efforts such as special pay and special recruiting bonuses,” the memo said. 

Each year, Congress grants the Defense Department the ability to reprogram, or move, up to $6 billion worth of funds within its own accounts to address shortfalls or other unforeseen circumstances. 

Given the slow nature of congressional appropriations, where it can take more than a year between a funding request and the money actually being appropriated, that flexibility is considered a critical tool for the Pentagon to respond to emerging priorities.

Per DOD regulations, the Pentagon must seek congressional approval in most cases when reprogramming more than $10 million. That approval must come from the chairman and the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee (HAC), House Armed Services Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC), and Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).

But that approval is not required by law, and is effective only so long as all parties agree to it. During the Trump administration, the Defense Department maintained that it did not need sign-off from those four committees to reprogram DOD funds for the border wall.

Additional impacts

According to the memo, immediate negative consequences of the hold include gaps in unit manning and the impeded ability of airmen and their families to relocate to new duty stations and arrange for housing, schools and child care.

The memo warns that as of July 1, the Air Force was forced to pause fourth quarter enlistment bonuses and the enlisted college loan repayment program — initiatives implemented this year to attract talent in the face of military-wise recruitment shortages. 

And as soon as Friday, the Air Force will be forced to implement an across-the-board pause on all bonuses offered to airmen for recruitment and retention of critical skills — a move that would impact approximately 1,635 airmen. 

Additionally, the service will pause on Friday the permanent change of station (PCS) for approximately 15,200 personnel, meaning those servicemembers will be unable to relocate for their next assignments until the hold is lifted. 

As the hold continues, more impacts are likely to emerge. Outside of personnel issues, the hold is currently delaying dozens of emergent defense requirements, according to the memo. 

Those include retesting of components for long-range hypersonic weapons and modernization efforts at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Trident Refit Facility Bangor to mitigate the risk of seismic activity while nuclear vessels are undergoing maintenance. 

Briana Reilly contributed to this report.

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