Letter to Gates

Published 9:40 pm Friday, August 13, 2010

Hampton Roads’ congressional delegation on Friday turned up the pressure on U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to rescind his recommendation to close U.S. Joint Forces Command.

In a letter to Gates, Congressmen Randy Forbes (R-04th), Bobby Scott (D-03rd), Glenn Nye (D-02nd) and Rob Wittman (R-01st) were joined by Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner in calling Gates’ decision to seek the closure “deeply disturbing” and reflective of “superficial research and a lack of analytical rigor.”

The political delegation called in the letter for Gates to withdraw his recommendation and “conduct a more complete review of JFCOM’s mission and activities without a predisposed intent to close the command.”

Early this week, the defense secretary announced his closure plan as a first step toward meeting a goal of saving $100 billion in Pentagon spending during the next five years. Closing JFCOM would save the military about $240 million a year, the Department of Defense estimates.

“We continue to support your efforts to reduce costs and eliminate waste and duplication within the Department of Defense,” the letter states. “However, it is of the utmost importance that decisions relating to base realignments and closures are considered within an establish and authorized process.”

Arguments on both sides of the issue have hinged since Monday’s announcement on whether JFCOM should be considered a base.

Gates’ office has said it should not, as its activities are spread out among several sites, including one in North Suffolk.

The congressional delegation and other supporters of keeping JFCOM open point to the fact that thousands of civilians would lose their jobs if the command is shut down, far more than should be necessary under law to require congressional approval or at least consideration under the Base Realignment and Closure process.

The command employs between 5,000 and 6,000 military and civilian workers and contractors, according to Pentagon estimates. More than 2,200 of those work at the Suffolk location, where JFCOM leases 642,000 square foot of office space near the Harbour View development.

Friday’s letter makes it clear that the congressmen and senators object to being left out of the decision-making process and to the perception that the secretary’s decision was made without sufficient research or outside input.

“Finally, we object to your plan to ignore the legislative intent associated with base closure and realignment limitations associated with Title 10 U.S. Code, Section 2687,” the letter states. “This provision was established to ensure that Congress has sufficient time and opportunity to review DoD proposals that would result in the closure or realignment of significant military facilities. It also includes requirements intended to ensure that such decisions are made only after a comprehensive review of costs, impacts and alternatives.”

The elected officials also argued that the 2005 BRAC process and at least two different quadrennial reviews had considered JFCOM’s role and found it still to be vital to the military.

“Perhaps more than ever before, the United States requires joint military forces able to function and succeed across a wide geographic and operational spectrum,” the congressional leaders quoted the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review as stating.

“Should [the president] approve your proposal, a number of substantial negative consequences will result, including the future erosion of our military’s joint warfighting capabilities, the dismissal of thousands of highly skilled civilian federal employees and defense contractors, and a significant adverse economic impact in the Hampton Roads region,” they wrote.