Rotten in the Pentagon

Published 9:10 pm Thursday, September 9, 2010

If the reports coming out of Washington, D.C., on the heels of a special meeting between Hampton Roads’ congressional delegation and a Pentagon spokesperson are accurate, what could have been a chance for the Obama administration to practice the openness that it preached prior to the presidential election turned instead into another episode of bloviating and obfuscation at the expense of taxpayers and the American worker.

When Undersecretary of Defense Robert Hale met with Rep. J. Randy Forbes (VA-04) and other congressmen from Southeast Virginia and Northeast North Carolina, there was an opportunity for the Pentagon to show its work as it proceeds with a decision to close U.S. Joint Forces Command, shuttering an agency that top U.S. Generals, including CentCom Commander James N. Mattis, have said is vital to national security.

“Successful accomplishment of our mission ensures we field the most capable and ready joint force the world has ever known,” Mattis said in testimony before Congress in March. Today, he is said to support the decision of his boss, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, to close the command.

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Forbes and others in the congressional delegation that met with Pentagon officials on Wednesday were looking for an explanation of the change of heart inside the Department of Defense. They were hoping to get a look at the data behind Gates’ claims that closing JFCOM would save the government more than $200 million. They wanted to understand how the plan could be put into action without having to go through the Base Realignment and Closure process that normally would be required before shutting down a military facility employing more than 6,300 people.

What they got, according to Forbes, was “nothing more than the same talking points that were provided to us a month ago.” In fact, Pentagon officials seem to have backtracked on their claim that the closure decision was driven by finances. “The only new piece of information that the DoD provided to our staff today is the fact that the JFCOM closure is a ‘philosophical decision’ made by the Secretary of Defense, having nothing to do with monetary savings,” Forbes said in a press release.

Why the change of attack on the part of Gates and his staff? The Pentagon originally contended that JFCOM’s duties were expensive and duplicative. Now, officials claim ‘philosophical’ problems with the command’s mandate, which seems like another way of saying that what the folks at JFCOM do is unimportant to U.S. security or military strategy. And that contradicts what Gates’ top commander, General Mattis, a former head of JFCOM, told Congress earlier this year.

Something is rotten about this closure; Forbes and his counterparts in Washington, D.C., are right to turn their noses up at the stench. And they must continue to call attention to it until somebody picks up the rock to see what’s underneath.