A hard day on the Hill

Published 9:47 pm Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Joint Experimentation Joint Futures Lab at the U.S. Joint Forces Command. A House Armed Services Committee meeting was held on the proposed closure of the command on Wednesday.

Wednesday was a new day for three Department of Defense representatives on Capitol Hill, but the questions and charges being thrown at them were not.

Just as members of a corresponding U.S. Senate Committee had done on Tuesday, members of the House Armed Services Committee admonished the Department of Defense during a hearing Wednesday for a lack of transparency and responsiveness regarding a proposal to close U.S. Joint Forces Command.

“There’s been a tremendous lack of transparency here,” Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA-01) told Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn during the hearing. “It seems like this process is wrought with inconsistencies, wrought with a lack of information being disclosed.”

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Congressmen were frustrated with what they perceive as a reticence on the part of the Department of Defense to reveal the thinking behind Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposal to close JFCOM, which employs more than 6,000, including 2,200 at a huge Suffolk facility.

Lynn told congressmen that the decision, which Gates announced Aug. 9, off the normal budget cycle, was part of an effort by Gates to “jumpstart the process” of examining cost-saving ideas that could help the Pentagon cut $100 billion from its budget during the next five years.

“He wanted to establish that this was going to be an aggressive process, to establish that this was a process he was going to be involved in personally,” Lynn said.

But the secretary’s recommendation, he added, was not based on the business case of saving money, rather it was “based on a military rationale.”

“The conditions no longer justify a four-star, billion-dollar command” dealing with joint operations among the branches of the military, he said.

Lynn said the Pentagon had held more than 30 meetings to establish the facts that helped Gates reach the conclusion that JFCOM’s work — helping to train and indoctrinate warfighters in the idea of joint operations — is now largely superfluous. And he said that Department of Defense officials are sure they will save some of the $1-billion-a-year price tag that comes with JFCOM’s operation by closing down its headquarters and other “unnecessary” components.

But congressmen charged that he had provided no reports, analysis or other backup information to prove the claims, and Lynn admitted that some of the analysis had not yet been done.

“Did the secretary get the analysis, and if he got the analysis, why in the world won’t he share it with us?” asked Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA-04). “You’ve refused to give us one bit of evidence to support this.”

Forbes, who has taken the lead on the issue among Virginia’s congressional delegation, took a hard line against the Pentagon’s representatives on Wednesday.

Other American communities with military facilities should take note of Pentagon officials’ actions, he said.

“If they just decide they’re going to close something, they’ll just do it and come back with the analysis later.”

But one comment from the Pentagon team might have come as a ray of hope to local, state and federal officials fighting the commands closure.

General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told congressmen that as military leaders work to develop a plan to satisfy Gates’ proposal, “The status quo is an option.”

“I do not feel that because the secretary set a goal of eliminating this command, that the option of keeping it open is off the table,” he said.