Forbes: ‘Tapestry of silence’

Published 11:15 pm Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday was a morning filled with a little accomplishment and a lot of frustration for Virginia’s federal legislators who are fighting the proposed closure of the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

Lawmakers and other state and local officials first held a closed-door meeting at the Pentagon with top Department of Defense officials to express their concerns about the shrouded process that has unfolded since Defense Secretary Robert Gates first announced last month his recommendation to shutter the command.

“It was a frank and direct discussion with us about our strong opposition to the secretary’s decision and the abhorrent lack of information and transparency supplied to us,” Gov. Robert McDonnell told reporters in a teleconference after the meeting.

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The meeting was closed at the request of the Pentagon, Congressman Randy Forbes said in a media release Tuesday.

The command, based in Norfolk with a large branch in Suffolk, employs roughly 6,000 people in Hampton Roads, including about 2,200 in Suffolk. It is tasked with training warfighters to work jointly in the field with those from other services and other countries.

Officials also have proposed cutting defense contracting, which could affect dozens of local contractors who work with the command, even if JFCOM ultimately remains open.

McDonnell also said he has “national security concerns about why, after 11 years of outstanding performance, that the Joint Forces Command would be disassembled,” he said.

The officials reported they have been promised a face-to-face meeting with Gates, who has only sent others in his place to meetings on the issue to this point.

Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, and Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ashton B. Carter attended Tuesday’s breakfast meeting.

“I made several requests today of the deputy secretary to have a similar meeting directly with Secretary Gates,” McDonnell said. “[He] assured me he would make that happen.”

However, a request by Congressman Frank Wolf to have public hearings in Norfolk and Arlington was not immediately agreed to by the officials.

“Public hearings are always very positive,” Wolf said. “Both sides can come together. Iron sharpens iron.”

Congressman Randy Forbes also reported that more members of Congress seem to be realizing the wide-reaching implications of the unilateral decision to close the command, but also that the defense department is becoming more secretive about the situation.

“There’s a tapestry of silence they’re weaving around our military,” he said, noting a gag order has been issued for members of the Joint Forces Command.

Forbes added subpoenas could be coming soon for Gates and others if they do not provide the extensive information that lawmakers have requested.

“We’ve been as nice as we could be to them,” Forbes said. “We’re not going to back off again. The American people deserve this information.”

At the federal level, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate have repeatedly asked that the Pentagon provide them with documentation that would give them some insight into the decision-making process that concluded with the recommendation to close JFCOM.

So far, Gates’ office has been unresponsive to those requests.

Officials at all levels have struggled to understand why the proposed closure would not have been subjected to the Base Realignment and Closure process, which takes a formal approach to closing military facilities, giving the community a chance to participate and providing economic and other resources to help the community cope with losing the facility.

McDonnell said lawmakers are asking for “a minimum of some sort of a BRAC-like process” regarding the proposed JFCOM shutdown.

“Seven million Virginians would like to know why this is happening,” he said.