Mission efficiency not cost savings is now being pushed as the sole reason that national defense operations are moving out of Cheyenne Mountain and into an office building on Peterson Air Force Base.
That was the overarching message from North American Aerospace Command, or NORAD, and U.S. Northern Command, this week in response to a Government Accountability Office study officially released Monday. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Congress seem to be pressing on with efforts to slow the controversial move.
In March, just before leaving for a command in Hawaii, Adm. Timothy Keating told media that moving operations out of the mountain would "save us money" and would help improve "combat efficiency and effectiveness."
However, true to a draft the Independent earlier obtained and reported on last week, the GAO study notes it has no documentation to back up claims the move would save $150 million to $200 million per year. Instead, inspectors wrote that the move is risky because of the unknowns.
"Without benefit of an analysis of operational effects of the proposed moves, the completed security assessments, and final protection level designation to inform him, it is unclear what level of risk the commander is accepting ..." the GAO found.
"Furthermore, the costs associated with any needed security upgrades are not known and it is unclear whether resources and funding are available to meet the protection level requirements."
Construction date coming
Michael Kucharek, spokesman for NORAD/NorthCom, says officials have not had the opportunity to fully review implications of the GAO study on plans, including construction at Peterson that was slated to begin in June. No contract has been awarded for that work, he says.
"We will continue to work closely with Congress and the GAO in the days and weeks ahead," Kucharek says, adding the transition is "required to increase unity of effort and operational effectiveness."
Commanders want to turn the mountain into an "alternate" command and training center on "warm standby." Personnel could return if the need arose.
Specifically, NORAD/NorthCom wants to move air warning and missile correlation to Peterson; U.S. Strategic Command seeks to move missile warning to Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs; and Air Force Space Command already is in the process of moving its space-control center to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Commanders have said Cheyenne Mountain is no longer needed around-the-clock because the nation isn't as vulnerable to nuclear missile attacks as it was during the Cold War.
But sources familiar with the mountain have told the Independent that the move out of the world's premier bunker could likely spawn confusion over missions and leave personnel and equipment more vulnerable to terrorist attacks (see "Bad move?" May 3-9, csindy.com/csindy/2007-05-03/cover.html, and, "Mountain of risk," May 17-23, csindy.com/csindy/2007-05-17/news4.html).
Legislators looking on
Prior to release of the GAO study, the House last week voted in support of its Armed Services Committee's decision to withhold $9.2 million of Cheyenne Mountain relocation funds from the 2008 defense authorization. The House inserted language telling the Pentagon to assess the risks associated with moving operations to Peterson.
Yet the House said nothing about the transitions involving Schriever and Vandenberg.
Air Force Space Command has said the move of its space operations and 1st Space Control Squadron about 140 personnel in all to Vandenberg is on track to be completed in coming months.
Current and former lawmakers, including Joel Hefley, the Colorado Springs Republican who retired this year after two decades in the House, complained they did not receive detailed answers from commanders regarding the move. Their concerns sparked the GAO study.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, is looking into the issue, says spokesman Chris Harvin.
"We're looking at both sides of the equation," Harvin says.
Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., who was critical when the transition was announced last summer, could not be reached because he was traveling at press time.
In a statement, Allard said he was "hopeful" the House action would result in better dialogue between Congress and the Defense Department.
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