Bipartisan group blasts defense closure plan

Published 9:42 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Elected officials from the local, state and federal level were quick on Monday to react to a surprise announcement by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that he is moving ahead with a recommendation that the U.S. Joint Forces Command be closed.

Within two hours of a press briefing in which Gates announced his plan to save $240 million a year by closing the Norfolk-based command in charge of joint training, doctrine and operations in the military, the area’s elected representatives came out fighting on behalf of Norfolk, Suffolk — which hosts 2,200 USJFCOM employees — and the state of Virginia.

During a hastily called press conference Monday afternoon, they struck back, charging that the plan is short-sighted, inefficient and dangerous to national security.

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“We are now seeing the piecemeal auctioning off of the greatest military the world has ever known,” Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-04th) said, accusing the Obama administration of allowing “their uncontrolled fervor for social spending and the resulting budgetary pressure to drive our national defense strategy.”

Forbes organized the press event in Norfolk that included Gov. Bob McDonnell, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-03rd), Rep. Rob Wittman (R-01st), Rep. Glen Nye (D-02nd), Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson and Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim. It took place an hour and a half after Secretary Gates officially announced his plan.

McDonnell said he and others in the group had been surprised by Gates’ recent push to close Joint Forces Command, which employs more than 5,000 staff members and contractors in all of its offices.

A leaked recommendation by the Defense Business Board last month had been intended for an October report, he said. None of the normal processes had been followed to help the Department of Defense develop that recommendation, he added, and Gates’ announcement made it clear he wasn’t even willing to wait for the officials recommendation in October.

“Why the huge rush?” McDonnell asked. “If it’s going to happen, let it be through BRAC [the Base Realignment and Closure commission].”

In fact, representatives said, none of the checks and balances that are part of the normal BRAC process seem to have been in effect when the DBB conceived its recommendation.

“This was a decision, apparently, of the secretary and a handful of people,” the governor said. “This is not the way these decisions should be made.”

Gates refused to talk to congressmen about the decision, Forbes added, despite the fact that the most recent quadrennial defense review never mentioned problems with JFCOM’s mission.

Scott said he “did not get a coherent response” when he asked defense officials about how the closure would take place, considering that many of the duties of the command still would need to be carried out.

“The decision-making behind this, the thought process is not logical in any way, shape or form,” added Wittman.

“It’s hard to see how the elimination of the command accomplishes much,” Nye said, considering the relatively small part that eliminating the command would play in Gates’ call to save $100 million in defense spending in the next five years. Even the Pentagon estimates closing USJFCOM would save only $240 million a year.

Forbes, a fiscal conservative, questioned the sincerity of the administration’s stated desire to trim the federal budget.

“What other agency has seen such massive cuts?” he asked. “If the only place we’re going to make tradeoffs is in national security, we’re in big trouble.”